Schofield, Mary Ann. Masking and Unmasking the Female
Mind: Disguising Romances in Feminine Fiction, 1713-1719.
Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999.
"BREAK OF DAY" John Donne (1633) John Donne's playful "Break of Day" reflects on the tradition of the aubade, a poem in praise of morning that often featured the parting of two lovers. one of the few
Donne poems adopting the female point of view, it offers evidence of the use by metaphysical poets and poetry of balance in terms of darkness and light. While important on their own as expressions of different times of day and the traditional activities that accompany them, the opposites also suggest as figurative language (figure of speech) the traditional association of two related opposites, evil (darkness) and good (light). Donne uses these metaphors to muse upon the various facets of love, its carnal facet generally believed to be evil in contrast with its spiritual. Particularly for women physical desire represented a dark spirit. Donne, however, expresses sympathy for women, who must share their men with distractions of the world. The bed represents woman's sphere, while the world of business claims men, separating the two. Donne's style includes an abundant use of alliteration and repetition of words for emphasis. His simple format includes many single-syllable terms and an easy rhyme scheme of aabbcc, allowing an imitation of the natural speaking voice.
The female voice begins with a question put to her lover:
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because 'tis light?
Did we lie down because 'twas night?
Donne often included rhetorical questions in his poetry, the answers to which he believed would prove of universal interest. His female voice speaks for all women in questioning the need to adhere to the artificially prescribed limits of time in the exercise of passion. The fourth line in this first of three six-line stanzas makes clear that men and women do not lie down just because the darkness dictates that they do so. Donne concludes the first stanza with lines imitating a riddle, playing off the idea of opposites: "Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither, / Should in despite of light keep us together." Clearly the persona feels that love should be dictated by neither natural nor unnatural law.
The second stanza engages in personification, as the voice characterizes light as a villain that robs her of sat isfaction. The tone remains teasingly pouty, as she states,
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye; If it could speak as well as spy, This were the worst that it could say, That being well, I fain would stay.
Donne incorporates the traditional view of the sun as heaven's eye, adopting an approach he also uses in his more famous "The Sun Rising." The last lines of this stanza clarify that her lover possesses both her heart and her honor. Donne's inclusion of honor remains crucial, as this female shows herself devoted to only one lover, an important distinction from the inconstant woman made popular in much Renaissance literature.
In the third stanza readers learn that business takes the lover away, suggesting that he also remains devoted to only one lover; this couple may be married, if the speaker intends business in the workday sense. The speaker terms business "the worst disease of love," explaining, "The poor, the foul, the false, love can / Admit, but not the busied man." Ironically she categorizes persons "foul" and "false" as more appropriate to love than those engaged in business. Donne may also reflect on his own method of adopting business as a topic for a love poem, rendering passion simply a part of the quotidian existence. However, the final two lines of the poem challenge the domestic bliss suggested by previous imagery. Typically of Donne, they offer a strong conclusion, leaving the reader wondering whether he/she had properly understood the poem. The previously honest voice turns coy as she states, "He which hath business, and makes love, doth do / Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo." Suddenly the man's "business" becomes questionable, as does the lovers' relationship. Again, however, the voice may simply suggest that a busy man has two lovers in the metaphoric sense, his wife and his business.
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