The Good Morrow
by John Donne
Analysis: Sound Check
Alliteration and Assonance
Donne loves him some similar sounds. "The Good Morrow" is chock-full of alliterative and assonant goodies, especially the first stanza, which rocks some pretty sweet W's, S's, C's, and D's. Let's zoom in. Line 2 hits us with three W-words, intensifying the speaker's jokey hyperbole:
Were we not wean'd till then? (2)
Still breastfeeding? As if! Then line 4 offers another triple lineup, with an extra rounding off the "Sleepers":
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den? (4)
Here all the S words mimic the soothing sounds of sleep. Even if he is asking about snorting, the speaker's relaying the idea of blissful slumber on a sonic, as well as a linguistic, level.
Assonance has the same effect, but this time it's underlining the speaker's naughtier side. Just listen to how those lewd U's play up the innuendo:
But sucked on country pleasures. (3)
Stanza three heads in a more respectable, but still playful, direction with its long I sounds:
thine eye, thine in mine (15)
Notice how the line acts out its own meaning, creating a total of four (long) I's or "eyes." That's as many I-sounds as actual eyes! But the real tour-de-force comes in stanza 1, where a freaking barrage of "we" and long e sounds hammers home the point that this poem is about two people coming together ("we") in passionate love. Get a load of this long E density:
- "we," "we," "weaned" (2)
- "country," "childishly" (3)
- "we," "sleepers" (4)
- "fancies," "be" (5)
- "any," "beauty," "see" (6)
- "dream," "thee" (7)
Again, the poem uses sound to subtly, and not-so-subtly, underline its content.
With us so far? Great, because anaphora—the repetition of a word at the beginning of a group of lines—also creates emphasis. We've only got one in this poem, but the three "Let"s in stanza 2 really stand out:
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one (12-15)
This is the speaker's personal dissing of the whole world and the people who explore it, and the repetition of "let" gives these lines a mocking feel. You can ride that boat to South America, suckers; we're staying here!
Does it look like Donne's repeating himself in this poem? That might be because that's exactly what he's doing. When parts of a sentence are structured to look suspiciously similar, it's called parallelism. Donne gets all up in it in stanza three. In line 18, he organizes a preposition-adjective-noun followed by, you guessed it, the same thing. In plain English:
without sharp north, without declining west (18)
He even repeats the "without" to make sure you're catching on. At line 15 he does it again but a little more craftily, giving us a possessive adjective-noun-preposition-noun followed by a possessive pronoun-preposition-possessive pronoun:
My face in thine eye, thine in mine (15)
So what's the effect of these parallel lines? Well, it draws your eye and your attention, and therefore reinforces the line's meaning. But in line 15 there's something more going on. Remember how the long I-sounds here reflected the eye-gazing in the actual poem? The parallelism also acts out the line by illustrating through parallel constructions that these lovers are parallel people. Two halves of a single world, they also contain each other while remaining individuals.