Donne’s affinity for writing about the opposite sex is well known. Throughout many of his works, he portrays the image of a male as a figure to be wanted after, but what is the female’s perspective in all of this? In his poem “Break of Day”, Donne gives us a glimpse of what he believes it feels like to be the woman that is the object of these affections, and how that contrasts with his own, more masculine, poetry. Throughout the litany of Donne’s earlier works, the male was the instigator, the protagonist, the connoisseur of women if you will, in the poem “Break of Day” we get to see the other side of the fence.
We know that this is a female voice by the use of the pronoun “him”, “That I would not from him, that had them, go” (“Break of Day” 12). By using literary devices and selective usage of pronouns, we are led to believe that this is a woman speaking about a particular man. In the last lines of the poem, we also get a clue as to the gender of the speaker, “The poor, the foul, the false, love can / Admit, but not the busied man” (“Break of Day” 15-16).
These last few lines also reinforce the notion that the speaker has apathy for people who perform their lives in the way that Donne portrays in his earlier poems; one in which males are either expected or even encouraged to be popular with the females and have a mistress or two on the side. This poem was of course before Donne met and married his wife, Anne. Donne’s marriage dramatically, at least to all outward appearances, changed his view on how he viewed women and their social context. Donne would not depart from his writings on women and lust until his more “religious” works late in his lifetime.
The environment in which this poem appears is a common one throughout most of Donne’s poetry? two ships pass in the night and have an encounter? the distinction in this poem, however, is that we get the female’s version of the after affects of the encounter, when we have been accustomed to the male version. Donne would have us believe that the females that are the subject of these writings are simply wanting for men and are powerless to stop them, such as when he writes, “She ‘is all states, and all princes, I, / Nothing else is” (“The Sun Rising” 21-22).
They are much more willing to invest their time and emotions than are the men, and thus be more likely to get their heart broken, “Love which in spite of darkness brought us hither, / Should in spite of light, keep us together” (“Break of Day” 5-6); the male is some type of omnipotent being and the woman is merely at the mercy of his wiles. Some may view this as Donne’s scheme of how men are able to seduce the women that they lust after by being able to get into their heads, to instill into them some otherworldly charm that they could not help but resist.
Such as in “The Sun Rising” when the speaker articulates about how he feels his bed is the center of his own personal universe, “Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday, / And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay” (“The Sun Rising”19-20). Even though the man that is the subject of this poem is leaving, the reader still cannot help but feel as if she has been genuinely smitten by this mysterious lover, “That being well, I fain would stay, / And that I loved my heart and honor so, / That I would not from him, that had them, go” (“Break of Day” 10-12).
Even though it may seem biased, one would usually associate this nai??veti?? with that of a young school girl who has just kissed her first boy and, by doing so, Donne subtly insinuates that men are somehow better conditioned to handle the emotions of love. One can most noticeably see the disparity between Donne’s use of the male and female voice when two poems are compared; the poem that most strikingly presents a contrast to “Break of Day” is “The Sun Rising”. Immediately at the beginning of “The Sun Rising” we are immediately introduced to an irritated, male, voice which is chastising the sun.
This sits in direct contradiction to the opening lines of “Break of Day” in which the female speaker sees the sun as just a signal for what is inevitable to come. The first lines of both of the poems adequately display these contrasting mindsets. In “Break of Day” the poem begins, “‘Tis true, ’tis day, what thought it be? / O wilt thou therefore rise from me? / Why should we rise, because ’twas night? / Did we lie down, because ’twas night? ” (“Break of Day” 1-4).
The coming of the sun to this female speaker is a mere natural occurrence? he beginning of a new day. Paradoxically, the opening lines of “The Sun Rising” present a much more confrontational, belligerent, and antagonistic view of the dawn of a new day, “Busy old fool, unruly sun, / Why dost thou thus, / Through windows, and through curtains call on us? ” (“The Sun Rising” 1-3). By calling the sun an “old fool” we are very clearly given the speakers attitude about the sun and what he, meaning the speaker, feels its connotations seem to be. As each of the poems continue, their divergence becomes even more apparent.
In “Break of Day”, the sun is merely seen as a static object with no real implications on the planet, “Light hath no tongue, but is all eye” (“Break of Day” 7). Once again we are presented with a much different view in “The Sun Rising”, where the male sees the sun as some bothersome creature which should be banished away, “Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide / Late schoolboys, and sour prentices” (“The Sun Rising” 5-6). Buried within all of Donne’s markedly “male” poetry, he inserts this female perspective; this allows us a dramatic insight into how Donne believed women’s thought processes worked.
Instead of them being detached, and emotionally distant like their male counterparts, Donne’s female speaker is essentially emotionally invested into her “relationship” and is obviously upset when she believes it has ended, “He which hath business, and makes love, doth do / Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo” (“Break of Day” 14-15). In reading John Donne: The Major Works, the reader is presented with poem after poem of male promiscuity, and how it is merely the personification of ones love.
Yet peppered into these seeming praises of lust, we are presented with a poem such as “Break of Day”, arguably a poem which seems to invest tremendous amounts of emotion and longing towards its respective subject. In stark contrast are poems such as “The Flea” and “The Sun Rising”, which seem focused on removing all emotional attachment whatsoever, such as in “Woman’s Constancy” in which the speaker is trying to convince his lover not to go, but in doing so reveals his own flawed logic, “Dispute, and conquer, if I would, / Which I abstain to do, / For by tomorrow, I may think so too” (Woman’s Constancy 15-17).
According to Donne’s poetry in the female persona, a woman would never take this view, that love is somehow superfluous and can be discarded at a whim. One would never expect the subject of “Break of Day” to merely concede to the fact that it is morning and now it is time to go. Donne has effectively created, through the use of the womanly guise, a mentality that one would associate with being feminine.
By Donne’s usage of the female perspective in his poem “Break of Day” we are allowed a glance into the time and social context in which he wrote and how women were viewed in that era. Donne uses the rhetorical technique of playing off of his own, staunchly masculine, poetry to allow the reader to see a distinct contrast in what was believed to be feminine thoughts and male thoughts of that era and the different views that they held in regards to love and sex.