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Sun, from "The Sun Rising," a poem by John Donne

Subthemes: Gods and Goddesses, Exploration and Study, Eclipses, Solstices,

Before turning mystical, the poet John Donne cavorted through a promiscuous youth. His poem, “The Sun Rising,” refers to that amorous period of life, when in the morning he was loath to have daylight barge into his sensuous bed. The intrusive glare and reminder of the Sun was most unwelcome to him and his lover. Other subthemes of Sun shine through.

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She’s all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

Gods and Goddesses : Donne’s young man has anthropomorphized the Busy old fool, unruly sun, the Saucy pedantic wretch, the unwelcome Tequila sunrise that would disrupt his sensual pleasures. Donne postures the morning Sun as a meddling god-like power. All polytheistic religions recognize a deity associated with the Sun. Helios, the Sun god in ancient Greek mythology, lends his name to many sun-related terms, such as heliosphere and helioseismology. Here are others from the History Cooperative: Ra — Egyptian Sun God, Sol — Norse Sun Goddess, Helios — Greek Sun God, Arinna — Hittite Goddess of the Sun, Surya — Hindu Sun God, Huitzilopochtli — Aztec God of the Sun, Inti — Incan Sun God, and Kinich Ahau — Mayan Sun God. Then there is the legend of Icarus, the exuberant, ignorant, or arrogant son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the Sun and fell when his wing wax melted.

Exploration and Study : The poet takes a mostly unscientific view of the Sun, as he refers to its beams, its job to warm the world (including olive trees, and that it shines, but he hints at scientific knowledge with Thine age asks ease, thy motions and eclipse. Since the 17th century, when Donne wrote, astrophysicists have amassed much knowledge about our 4.6 billion-year-old furnace. They know it is by far the largest object in our solar system. Its diameter is about 865,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers), compared to the earth’s slender width of 7,917 miles. The mass of the sun is 333,000 times more than the mass of the Earth; it would take 1.3 million Earths to fill the Sun’s volume, which accounts for 99.8% of our solar system’s mass Its gravity holds the solar system together, tugging everything from Jupiter to the smallest bits of debris in orbit around it.

The Sun tilts 7.25 degrees with respect to the plane of the planets’ orbits. It also rotates on its axis. Since the Sun is not solid, different parts rotate at different rates. In the larger middle, the Sun spins around once about every 25 Earth days, but at its smaller poles, the Sun rotates once every 36 days, which effects sunspots and coronal expansion. In one of the biggest mysteries, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, grows hotter the farther it extends from the surface. The corona reaches up to 3.5 million °F (2 million °C) – much, much hotter than the chromosphere below it or the photosphere in the next layer down. Such heat makes ice cubes of our tepid desert heats!

One branch of Sun research, helioseismology, studies the structure and dynamics of the Sun through its oscillations. These are principally caused by sound waves that are continuously driven and damped by convection near the Sun’s surface.

Eclipses : Donne’s complainer knew he could easily cope with Thy beams, so reverend and strong as he could eclipse and cloud them with a wink. But doing so would lose sight of his beautiful companion. Actual eclipses come in two version. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth interposes itself between the Moon and Sun and blocks the light from hitting the Moon. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon crosses the Sun and blocks its rays from reaching a path on the earth. Most years have four eclipses: the minimum number of eclipses in a year; two of these four are always solar eclipses. While rare, the maximum number of eclipses that can take place in a calendar year is seven. In olden days, eclipses were seen as portents of momentous change. “These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us,” fretted the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear, connecting an eclipse to the impending collapse of a royal family and kingdom. Eclipses also enabled early astronomers to argue that the Earth is round because of the shadow it casts on the eclipsed moon.

Solstices : Presumably, Donne’s gentleman would have preferred the longest, darkest day of the year – the better to dally in bed. For more worshipful reasons, ancient people recognized and venerated the longest and shortest days of the year, as Stonehenge’s alignment attests to. The Winter Solstice marks the official start of winter in the northern Hemisphere. It is the shortest day and thus the longest night. The solstice occurs between Dec. 20-23 and marks the minute the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Counter-intuitively, for those shivering in late December, it happens when the Earth orbits closest to the Sun.

The angle of the Earth (its tilt relative to the Sun) means that the Sun cross the sky along a north-south path throughout the year. The days shorten as the Sun moves toward the Winter Solstice and lengthen as it moves northward again, reaching its zenith on the Summer Solstice. Total minutes of sunshine change by approximately 2 minutes and 8 seconds per day. By Federal law, to deal with the shift in darkness, daylight saving time (DST) begins on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.


The busy-body Sun exposes the lovers to the brightness of day, much like a despondent Romeo notices:

look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:

They do not want to be reminded of the hour or the press of daily life. They care not about the astronomical majesty of the Sun, only that its rays have darkened and threatened their enjoyable time together.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of the Sun, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About. Or other Themes might intrigue you, or you might want to explore particular subthemes.

We invite you to read about other poems discussed on this blog for their themes. Here they are:

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