Dirty limericks have their place, but for our money, the aubade is the steamiest poem around. An aubade is a poem or song spoken to a lover just as dawn is breaking, presumably after a, shall we say, pleasant evening. John Donne's "The Sun Rising" proclaims to the sun and to the whole world that his love is the center of the universe.
It wasn't the first or last time that Donne would make an outrageous claim. Donne was one of the metaphysical poets of the 17th century (that's the 1600's for all you math geniuses out there). The metaphysical poets were famous for making outlandish claims and metaphors that were intricate and difficult to follow. Many of their contemporary critics claimed that there was too much brainpower in their poems for any authentic emotion, but a closer look reveals that beneath all that cleverness beats the heart of a true romantic.
In the poem, Donne is in bed with his lover just as morning dawns. It is likely that this lover is his teenage bride, Ann More, whom he had secretly married against her father's wishes. What starts as griping at the sun for intruding on their reverie quickly turns into a boast about the greatness of his love. Once you read this poem, all those swoony rom coms will start to pale in comparison to this guy's lines.
We at Shmoop are language nerds—you already knew that, right? So we are supremely interested in this new term that seems to be floating around everywhere: swag. Everything is swag. You can't swing a cat without hitting a preteen saying something or someone has swag.
Look, you know this better than we, but swag is all about confidence, the way you carry yourself. It's about style and knowing you've got it.
We're just going to be blunt here: John Donne has more swag than you. In fact, you're not even close. Don't feel bad. You'll get there. But John Donne wakes up in bed next to his lady and then begins to mock the sun—the sun!—for being weak. When's the last time you did that?
So, yes, this poem is about swag. Donne is brash and brazen and clearly feels like he's on top of the world. But underneath all that bluster, this poem is really about love. Because that's the secret to true swag. It isn't fake. It isn't just puffing out your chest and pretending you're the greatest. That feeling, that confidence has to come from somewhere. And for John Donne, it comes from the love that he feels, the love that makes it seem like the whole world disappears and it's only him and his lady. That's swag.
The Poetry Foundation has put together a Learning Lab to help students discover more about the poem, complete with beakers and Bunsen burners. Just kidding.
The American Academy of Poets hosts a concise introduction to John Donne, many of his important poems, and a bibliography of his work, if you're hungry for more metaphysics. And who isn't?
John Donne: The Lover as Logician
Here's a helpful (if overly intellectual) introduction to John Donne and Metaphysical poetry.
Actor Julian Glover Reads "The Sun Rising"
The voice of Harry Potter's Aragog and the bad guy in Indiana Jones and Bond, Julian Glover looks out the window at the sun and recites the poem.
Actor Michael Stuhlbarg reads "The Sun Rising"
As part of their learning lab, the Poetry Foundation hosts a fine reading of the poem.
T.S. Eliot on the Metaphysical Poets
T.S. Eliot saved the Metaphysical poets from irrelevance with this important essay. Try on your tweed and get reading.
John Donne's Poetry
The Norton Critical Edition contains the most accurate text, excellent footnotes, and critical essays about Donne, if you really want to dive in.
John Donne: The Reformed Soul
John Stubbs's authoritative biography analyzes Donne's complex religious and romantic inclinations.