Noam Flinker: "John Donne and the Anthropomorphic Map"


Donne's lyric "The Good-Morrow" likewise makes use of geographic imagery which aptly reflects the tradition of the anthropomorphic map, but here erotic tension gives way to the emotional intensity that grows out of sexual experience. The poem opens with a frank avowal of previous sexual encounters and their relevance to the speaker's love:

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we lov'd? were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on countrey pleasures, childishly?

The speaker regards all previous sexual experience as infantile. Whatever the actual physical activities in which he and his partner(s) engaged, they were akin to the world of the infant who is limited to what he or she can suck. The speaker suggests that there was something sleepily unconscious or dream-like about all this:

Or snorted we in the seven sleepers' den?
T'was so; But this, all pleasures fancies bee.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir'd, and got, t'was but a dreame of thee.

Yes, he seems to be saying to his beloved, I've had my share of previous "relationships" but they were, at best, but a dream-like anticipation of you. Unlike the "Elegie," the speaker here seems to be unconcerned with convincing his mistress to make love with him. Instead he is reflecting on what they have already done and the significance of similar acts (with other partners) for his present love.

The next stanza connects two separate metaphors in order to characterize the significance of their love. The sleepy, infantile love-making of the first stanza gives way first to an awakening and then to the geographical model of the macrocosm:

And now good morrow to our waking soules,
Which watch not one another out of feare;
For love, all love of other sights controules,
And makes one little roome, an every where.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let Maps to others, worlds on worlds have showne,
Let us possesse one world, each hath one, and is one.

The bedroom is the site of the awakening but it is parallel to the cosmos of the anthropomorphic tradition. It is a universal "every where" and as such is superior to the world of maps and exploration. The point of the reference to the macrocosm is to deny it the seriousness of the "world" of love.

The final line of the second stanza points in the direction of the third in which the lovers become the two hemispheres of a world like that of the Mediterranean of Opicinus:

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appeares,
And true plaine hearts doe in the faces rest,
Where can we finde two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dyes, was not mixt equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.

The world as geographic copulation gives way to a more perfect set of hemispheres that complete each other the way the eyes of the lovers see so that each one's image is in the eye of the other. This perfect cosmos of love avoids the problems of macrocosm ("sharpe North" and "declining West"). Love has thus moved from infantile sexuality to spiritual awakening to a potential equality that points in the direction of immortality ("none can die"). The final line is, perhaps, also a reference to the tradition of courtly love in which sexual passion is to go on endlessly. That is, since "die" often connoted orgasm in seventeenth-century English, the final line of the poem may be suggesting that lovemaking without sexual closure makes the relationship immortal.

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 7 : Page 5 / 7

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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