The Good-Morrow

The Good-Morrow Summary and Analysis of "The Good-Morrow"


John Donne’s short poem “The Good-Morrow” is framed as an address to the poet-speaker’s lover. Presumably, as the title and tone imply, their love/relationship is somewhat new; the poem is spoken from the perspective of one who is falling, or has just fallen, in love. In form, it mirrors poems whose context is an absent lover, to whom one is writing or simply thinking about. Its title, however, and certain elements of the poem itself, suggest that the imagined occasion of the poem is the speaker’s waking up next to his love.

But the text of “The Good-Morrow” itself is concerned primarily with “waking up” in a broader, abstract, even spiritual sense, and it proceeds rather schematically. The speaker first reflects, from an obvious distance, on the state he and his lover lived in before they found one another, which he compares variously to a kind of extended childhood, to “slumber,” and to a kind of dream. Next, in the second stanza, he offers a vivid, though abstract, description of the experience of their love, and how that love shapes his experience of the world. The final stanza of the poem returns from the world to consider the pair of lovers themselves, and finds in the harmony, the unity, of their love for one another evidence of that love’s immortality.


Though it is quite clearly a love poem, “The Good-Morrow” should strike us as a somewhat odd sort of love poem. Compare it, for example, to two of the most famous examples of love poetry, also from the 17th century, Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (the latter of which contains two of the best-known lines of poetry in English: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate”).

These two poems represent, together, perhaps the two predominant “kinds” of love poem in the English tradition: Marvell’s is rhetorical, an attempt (in this case somewhat ironic) to persuade the speaker’s love (to return that love, to marry, etc.); Shakespeare’s takes the form of a paean, a celebration of the beauty and other virtues of his speaker’s lover (a genre Donne parodies brilliantly in his poem “The Anagram”).

In “The Good-Morrow,” however, we find not a word describing the poem’s addressee, nor even much of any of the emotional language associated with romance. And though its opening lines are framed as a question addressed to the speaker’s lover, what follows more closely resembles a quasi-philosophical exploration of the nature of love itself than a passionate declaration of it. In fact, the poem ends precisely where the actual direct encounter with the speaker’s lover seems to begin, as the first line of the final stanza—“My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears”—evoke the image of his lover waking up and opening her eyes.

In this way, the poem’s structure mirrors one of its most significant arguments about love: that is, its relation to the concept of unity, of two becoming one, or “thou and I” being subsumed by “our love.” The “one world” of the speaker and his lover—which she, as the other “hemisphere,” completes—coincides with the completion of the poem. And thus the poem’s end is simultaneously a beginning, in the sense captured by its title, “The Good-Morrow.”

Thus Donne offers a vision of love as a perpetual “waking” (as in “our waking souls”): a “good-morrow” both in the sense of the beginning of something new—the discovery not of a “new world” but a world made new—and that of a greeting, as though “meeting” was a state of being rather than a single event. He imagines the world as created by and in love as without the pointed directedness of “sharp north” (the direction of the compass, marking our position in space) or “declining west” (the direction of the sunset, marking the passage of time). This world exists in the third term created between “thou and I,”—that is, love, which expresses the unity of the "thou" and the "I." And so we can take Donne’s final line as a way of stating, in a form also common in Shakespeare, that so long as this trinity (thou+I→love) remains intact, the immortality of love guarantees the immortality of the lovers.