Reading and Content Analysis of Non-African Poetry – “The Sun Rising” by John Donne


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In today’s class, we will be talking about the reading and content analysis of non-African poetry – “The Sun Rising” by John Donne. Enjoy the class!

Reading and Content Analysis of Non-African Poetry – “The Sun Rising” by John Donne

the sun rising

This poem is one of many metaphysical poems written by John Donne. The poem centres on the metaphysical image of the sun. In the poem, the poet sees the sun as: “Busy old fool, unruly sun”. The sun has been there from time immemorial to do the work it has been assigned by nature and is always continually busy with its mild touch especially in the morning hours and its scorching effects on sunny hours of the day. It is “unruly” because its activities are not controlled by any person including the lovers. The speaker poses a question by way of apostrophe thus: “why dost thou thus/ Through windows and through curtains, call on us”. Indeed the consequence of the sun rising is that its rays pierce through the windows and curtain blinds and touch us by way of the heat that is emitted.

The speaker wonders why the sun should stop the lovers from making love in the day time but in the night, its powers are inhibited and non-existent because lovers then can make love till daybreak but cannot do the same in the afternoon under the scorching sunshine, and so the speaker queries thus: “Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?”

Again, the sun is branded a useless and a shameless fellow who pays much attention to details because it believes in doing its routine work stringently and according to rules and nothing less and as a result, it scolds and beats school children and apprentices alike, whenever they are either on their way back to school or working outside for their masters in the case of apprentices. The apprentices are temperamental for constantly working for their masters. Because of its control over all these people, the speaker sarcastically calls on the sun to do what it knows best to do by unleashing its adversity on the servants who attend to the king whenever “the king will ride”. And of course, the sun usually keeps the ants busy.

The speaker maintains that love is such a permanent thing in life and constant so that no “season” nor country nor even sun itself can pose a successful wedge or hindrance to any love affair. Not even time which is measured by “hours”, “days” and “months” which according to the poet are “the rags of time”, would constitute a stumbling block to such a priceless gift of love to mankind.  The speaker further wonders why the sun should “think” “thy beams so reverend and strong”, that is, the strength of the sun to send out light should not be overplayed or over-acted. After all, the speaker argues that he could shut out the sun rays by eclipsing (blotting out) his eyes, hence: “I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink /But that I would not lose her sight so long”.

Even at that, the speaker continues, he will not miss his lover for long, if at all; her glittering eyes will not even over-power that of the sun rays or vice-versa. The speaker prefers a wait-and-see attitude, and compares such situation of action-stay, to the East Indies noted for the production of spice and that of the West Indies famous for gold, because these people are constantly improving and manufacturing their products and so, should the sun.  The sun is also to note that her sun rays could not even do any harm to the kings who congregate on “one bed’, how much less, the unity of the lovers.

The speaker is of the view that the sun can visit and beam her light on anybody and anywhere but for them (the lovers), nothing is as important as the love since they are everything to each other. That is what is represented by – “She is all states, and all princes, I nothing else is”.

Not even princes are as tough as the sun because they, like actors on the stage, do play and copy good manners and feelings that are “honour’s mimic”, though the poet added that all wealth is as useless as the usual practice of the alchemist’s copying of gold and silver, and so is the sun.  The poet further says that “Thou sun art half as happy as we, / In that, the world’s contracted thus”.  The poet in effect is saying that the sun is not shining on them all the twenty-four hours of the day but rather twelve hours in a day and as such cannot be said to be as consummated or as happy as the lovers; more so, when its activities are confined to a certain part of the room (window).

It is high time therefore the sun relaxed.  After all, it is as old as the world itself and also meant to add warmth to the earth but not to terrify people.  It should just shine mildly here and there and regard the “bed” as its focal point and indeed regard the walls as it own ‘sphere’.

Poetic devices

  • Diction:

There is no doubt that the language of the poem is difficult as an average reader could read between the lines to decode the message contained therein.  The grammatical structure is essentially figurative and complex.  The three-stanza poem is arranged in ten lines each; and throughout the poem, extensive use is made of the apostrophe as the sun is addressed as if it were present and the sun is equally personified.

  • Tone/mood:

The poem recaptures a minatory (threatening) tone on one hand and that of helplessness and cannot-help on the other.  And it is essentially through the tone that we are able to know how intimidating the sun was and how it overshadows the universe and everything in it, including the lovers.

  • Imagery:

There are sensuous pictures of the sun, schoolboys and apprentices, kings and servants alike, ants, bed, that are created in the poem.  The result is that the whole poetic description appears picturesque and we can feel the pinch of the sun’s scorching heat and empathize with others affected by same-when the poet says that the sun “through windows” and “through curtains, call on us?”  We visualize standing before the caller, the sun, and listening to his voice sounding from the windows and curtains.  The scenario is sensuous indeed.

  • Symbolism:

In the poem, “the king” refers to a disaster waiting to happen.  In other words, “… those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday… All here in one bed lay.”  It shows that they have finally met their waterloo and are at their wit’s end.  It also signifies death.  In the poem, “the sun” could stand for various obstacles that stand on our way to progress; it could be the usual vicissitudes of life and when we are being weighed down heavily by these problems, our position could be akin to the scorching effects of the ‘unruly sun’.  The ‘bed’ which is the centre of the sun is the world itself, which is the ‘sphere’ of the sun.  ‘The King’ that ‘will ride’ may stand for the almighty sun itself.

  • Allusion:

A classical reference identifiable in the poem is that of the East Indies who are famous for spice, and the West Indies who are well known for gold.

  • Apostrophe:

The entire poem is apostrophized.  Thus, the sun is addressed as if it was present and the literary device pays off for immediacy which is achieved in the poem.

  • Alliteration:

To achieve some measure of concord and rhythm, the poet uses the following words: (1) “must… motions” (‘m’ alliterates), (2) “call country” (‘c’ alliterates), (3) “I could …3 cloud” (‘c’ alliterates), (4) “To warm the word … warning us” (‘w’ alliterates).

  • Irony:

It is ironical that the sun is described as “old fool” and “unruly” and “saucy pedantic wretch”, and at the same time is said “to warm the world” and being invited to “shine here” and in fact, “everywhere”.  Thus with these lines, the poem ends on a note of irony.

  • Metaphor:

It is metaphorical that ‘hour’, ‘days’ and ‘mouths’ are described as ‘the rags of time’ and that all wealth is said to be alchemy, that is, unreal, like the alchemist’s imitations of gold and silver.

  • Inversion/rhetorical question:

“Thy beams so reverend and strong/why shouldst thou think”, instead of ‘why shouldst you think? / Thy beams so reverend and strong”.  It is also a question that doesn’t require any answer, and so is “must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?”

  • Personification:

Throughout the poem, the sun is described as a living being (e.g.) “Through windows and through curtains, call on us?” How can the sun develop a mouth to call the lovers? The sun is to “ask for those kings…” as if it were a person who can ask after somebody.  The poet in line 12 asks the question, “why shouldst thou think?” and line 20 says that “thou shalt hear”.  The effect of these usages is that the description is made lively.

  • Hyperbole:

It is an exaggeration which has the effect of keeping us in suspense as the encounter between the sun and the lover is capable of producing a stupendous result.  Hence, the lover consoles himself, that he is not likely to miss his female counterpart for a long time, so as long as “her eyes have not blinded thine”, that is, if the ray of the sun has not blinded the female lover.

  • Sarcasm:

It is a jibe to ask the sun to remind the “court huntsmen that the king will ride”.  It is a form of caricature.

  • Oxymoron:

Here, two opposing words that are placed together for a sharp contrast is “reverend” which means that the sun is admired but is at the same time “strong” on the body.


  • The biting effects of the rising sun.
  • The adverse effects of the sun as a hindrance to true love.
  • The socio-cultural roles that the sun play on human life.
General evaluation
  1. Discuss the use of imagery symbolism in the poem, ‘The Sun Rising’.
  2. Discuss the major theme of the poem.

Weekend assignment

  1. A pause within a line of a poem is a ………… (a) zeugma (b) foot         (c) caesura  (d) stress       (e)  pause
  2. The recurrence of the rhythmic pattern of stress in a poem is a …… (a) couplet  (b) metre      (c) consonance     (d) scansion      (e) assonance
  3. A literary work in which action and characters represent ideas is ………. (a) an allusion            (b) an epigram   (c) an allegory       (d) an innuendo   (e) an alliteration
  4. “Peter’s pretty partner paid the bills” is an example of ……… (a) alliteration             (b) rhyme (c) satire     (d) digression     (e)  personification
  5. “O happy torment” is an example of …… (a) oxymoron            (b) simile    (c) synecdoche     (d) innuendo              (e) metaphor
  1. Discuss the style of the poem, ‘The Sun Rising’.
  2. John Donne is a metaphysical poet. Discuss, using his poem.

Reading assignment

  1. Exam Reflection Vol. IV, Literature- in-English by Sunday Olateju Faniyi, pgs 43-51.
  2. Essential Literature-in-English for SSS by Ibitola A. O., pgs 203-206.
  3. The Mastery of Literature by Chinweikpe Iwuchukwu Esq, pgs 98-104.


In our next class, we will be talking about Reading and Textual Analysis of African Prose – Purple Hibiscus by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie.  We hope you enjoyed the class.

Should you have any further question, feel free to ask in the comment section below and trust us to respond as soon as possible.

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