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Is Renaissance poetry still relevant? The Day that John Donne jumped out at me

Extract from The Good Morrow by John Donne
Extract from The Good Morrow by John Donne

Hello, my name is Amelia Marriette, and I am a walker. I freely admit it. I am addicted, and there seems to be no cure. Much of my life revolves around walking, thinking about walking, writing about walking or waiting for my next walk. I have imaginary walks waiting to be walked; metaphorically lurking behind the books on my shelves like half-finished bottles of whisky.

A few days ago we had a feeling that there would be snow on the mountains, which are only 15 minutes' drive from where we live. So we piled into the car and spent a truly magical 5 hours walking in snow. I adore walking in snow. I can never get enough of it. It's my tipple of choice.

I often walk alone, so when my partner offered to take a photograph of me, I agreed. I downloaded my photographs today, and I saw her reflected in my glasses.

As soon as I saw this, I thought of a line from John Donne's poem The Good Morrow:

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, reflection in sunglasses.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, reflection in sunglasses. Photo Credit, Katie Gayle.

The Good Morrow was first published after Donne's death in 1633 in a collection of his Songs and Sonnets. Donne is the most famous of the metaphysical poets. These poets liked to write about things that seem to lie beyond the limits of ordinary experience. But this definition makes it sound impenetrable and irrelevant. Still, I think that what they what he is really saying is that ordinary words are no match for the wonder of love, or indeed for the wonder that is walking in the mountains in snow - I often allow myself to write lyrically and poetically when I am trying to describe the beauty of nature.

Donne's poetry may seem to use language that is slightly beyond our reach, but I think that it's also accessible. In The Good Morrow, he is simply saying: I was nothing until I met you, and that the love we have found is the whole world – love "makes one little room an everywhere."

But the most powerful line for me will always be My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears – to see yourself reflected in the eye of the one you love – as a tiny miniature - is such an astonishing thing. In a slight inversion of this idea, and because I was wearing mirror glasses, I can see my partner reflected in my sunglasses. I will treasure this picture; it seems like a special gift; in this image, she will always be there in my eye.

John Donne - The Good Morrow

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I Did till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

But sucked on country pleasures, childishly? Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den? 'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.

If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls, Which watch not one another out of fear; For love, all love of other sights controls, And makes one little room an everywhere. Let sea-discoveries to new worlds have shown, Let us possess one world, each hath one and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, And true plain hearts do in the faces rest; Where can we find two better hemispheres, Without sharp north, without declining west? Whatever dies was not mixed equally, If our two loves be one, or, thou and I Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

The Good Morrow written by John Donne

In many ways the song The First Day Of My Life, released by Bright Eyes in 2005,

shares many of the same sentiments as Donne's poem:

The First Day Of My Life

This is the first day of my life Swear I was born right in the doorway I went out in the rain Suddenly everything changed They're spreading blankets on the beach Yours is the first face that I saw I think I was blind before I met you I don't know where I am I don't know where I've been But I know where I want to go And so I thought I'd let you know That these things take forever I especially am slow But I realize that I need you And I wondered if I could come home Remember the time you drove all night Just to meet me in the morning And I thought it was strange You said everything changed You felt as if you'd just woke up And you said, "This is the first day of my life. I'm glad I didn't die before I met you, But now I don't care I could go anywhere With you and I'd probably be happy." So if you wanna be with me With these things there's no telling We just have to wait and see But I'd rather be working for a paycheck Than waiting to win the lottery Besides maybe this time it's different I mean I really think you like me

The First Day Of My Life written by Conor Oberst

For me walking is not just walking it is a way to process the ideas in my head, a way to make sense of the world and give my mind time to think about anything I want to. Today it was the metaphysical poets, and beautiful songs and, of course, whether I should go and buy a loaf of bread on the way home.

There are worse addictions; this one helps me keep my mind under control and myself on an even keel.

Useful Links

YouTube link to the song The First Day Of My Life:

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