At Mary Oliver’s suggestion, I’ve been reading poetry from previous centuries: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Yeats. Though I’ve enjoyed some of the poems, I haven’t been moved by them. The thees and thous distracted, the excess of pastoral and chivalrous themes were wearing; until I came upon a poem by Billy Collins about memorizing John Donne’s The Sun Rising. I wasn’t familiar with Donne’s poem, but when I read it, though there were plenty of thees and thous, I was touched by how love does not change, that lovers still feel that —Nothing else is. I decided to memorize it.
What fun I had! I didn’t fully understand some of the poem’s lines until having spoken them several times. I’ve had poems gain meaning after many readings, but never before had a poem revealed through memorization. The rhythms, and subtle rhyme, the grand leaps of vision— learning this poem was a revelation.
Hear it here! I recite, John Donne’s The Sun Rising.
THE SUN RISING.
by John Donne
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 to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st 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 honour’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.