Figurative Language in John Donne’s “The Sun Rising”

In the second stanza (11-20) of John Donne’s “The Sun Rising,” the speaker seems to challenge the power of the sun in comparison to the relationship between himself and his lover. The literal action of the first four lines of the stanza sees the speaker introduce the sun’s supposed power, then show how easy it would be for him to eclipse that power, before he lets the sun go so as to keep his eyes fixed upon his lover. The sun is described as “reverend and strong,” but the speaker cautions the sun that he is the one with the true power and not the sun (11). By simply closing his eyes he “could eclipse and cloud” the sun, but because of his attraction to his lover the speaker condescends to spare the sun because he “would not lose her sight so long” (13-14).

Next the speaker begins to talk down to the sun saying “if her eyes have not blinded thine, / Look” (upon his lover) (15-16). Here the speaker elevates his lover to the position of the sun, because the mere sight of her has the power, or at least the potential, to blind the sun. The sun, unlike the speaker, cannot close its great eye and must observe the blinding beauty of the lover. Interestingly, the speaker portrays himself in a position of power over both because he can “wink” to cause an eclipse of the sun, but refrains from doing so because such a wink would also make him lose sight of his lover implying that he could just as easily eclipse her. The speaker now turns from the sun, who he has shown to be a lesser power than himself and his lover, to world itself. He claims that the sun, who has seen “Indias of spice and mine” and “kings,” will “tomorrow late” see them “All here in one bed lay” (17-20). To the speaker, his bed has become the center of all of that is exotic (“Indias of spice”) and valuable (“mine” as in gold mines), as well as becoming the center of all temporal power in the world (the “kings”) (17-19).

Not only has the speaker’s lover taken on the attributes of the sun in her blinding beauty, they now both have the power, like the sun, to view and contain all the things of the world. But even in this they surpass the sun because the sun must make its circuit around the world (in a geocentric universe) in order to see all of these things. But “tomorrow late” everything comes to the lovers (16). In this process the bed becomes the world itself, the lover the sun, and the speaker almost a kind of god figure who has the ability to create this world with his lover, or eclipse it with a wink. The central conceit of this stanza seems to be the speaker’s lover and the bed they share being compared to the sun and the world. In the first half of this stanza the lover takes on the attributes of the sun, while in the second half the content of the world is drawn into their bed. This stanza sets the scene for the final stanza in which the bed is transformed into the world and the sun is called upon to perform its duty with “This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere” (30).

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