The world of love is contrasted to the world of reality by John Donne and William Shakespeare

In the first stanza John Donne uses a direct address to the sun to differentiate between the world of love and the world of reality.

“Busy old fool, unruly sun”

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The sun is disparaged in a way for disturbing the lovers and is told to go and “chide” other people. I assume this points out that time operates differently for lovers.

Donne then lists the types of people the sun can / does disturb. Fundamentally he states that the sun bothers the busy, everyday, exterior world. He states:

“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;”

He is trying to suggest that these people are called on by the sun to get up and go about their everyday tasks.

By contrast the rhyming couplet at the end of stanza one explains how love is not controlled by the normal dictates of time and reality by directly contrasting the world of love to everyday life:

“Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,

Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.”

In stanza two the sun is challenged and we see that the lovers are presented as more powerful than the sun. The sun is told to take note of the exotic locations and kings that it will see. These places and people are specifically mentioned because the lovers are portrayed in a “dream world” where they are kings, and these aspects of the real world are subsumed within the lovers’ world. The start of stanza three develops this idea even more.

“She’s all States, and all princes, I;

Nothing else is”

This is undoubtedly an issue of reality/illusion. The values of the exterior world are compared with the lovers’ world.

“Princes do but play us; compared to this,

All honour’s mimic; all wealth alchemy.”

These are clearly the false values of the external world. Real princes/kings seem like an illusion because real wealth lies in the world of love. The next four lines try to implicate the idea that the sun serves them.

“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.”

Donne suggests that the lovers are in their own world, and that the exterior world, the real world no longer exists.

“Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;

This bed thy centre is, these walls thy sphere.”

The final lines of the poem pursue this idea of the lovers’ world. It presses on the thought that they are the centre of the world and the room that they are in constitutes the extent of the world.

Sonnet 138

In this poem, the lovers are seen as lying and denying certain aspects of objective reality, although they are aware of the truth nevertheless. This poem concerns how the lover’s personal world depends upon a denial of certain aspects of reality. In the first two lines Shakespeare establishes immediately a basic opposition by constructing the last word of the first line as “truth”, and the last word of the second line as “lies”. The poem has a formal and strict structure. The rhyme scheme follows a basic sonnet pattern being AB, AB, CD, CD, EF, EF, and GG. The argument is built up clearly through questions leading to a conclusion in the final couplet. Shakespeare is noticeably contradicting what he is saying and he also uses word play, as, for example, in line 13 where he states:

“Therefore I lie with her, and she with me.”

This could be grasped as in her lying with him in bed or lying to him as in deceiving him. So he is trying to illustrate that love, in his eyes, can only continue if the truth isn’t openly expressed. He states in line 5:

“Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young.”

Then in line 6:

“Although she knows my days are past their best.”

He is demonstrating how love has restrictions imposed by time and explains why in line 12:

“And age in love loves not to have years told.”

Both poets see the lovers’ world as divorced from reality in certain ways. Donne sees the lovers as totally exempt from the restrictions of everyday reality and pictures them creating their own exclusive world where time has no power over them.

Shakespeare presents a more realistic picture of how reality can threaten a lover’s vanity and how all relationships need to deny these aspects of reality in order to continue to function.

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