Break of Day
By John Donne
‘Tis true, ‘tis day, what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because ‘tis light?
Did we lie down because ‘twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
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,
And that I loved my heart and honour so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.
Must business thee from hence remove?
Oh, that’s the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.
I fell in love with this poem in seventh grade thanks to my English teacher Mrs. (Carol) Benedetto. She gave me her Norton Anthology of Literature to read.
It all started when my dad took us to this little book store by our house, in the same strip mall as the indie movie house. I picked up three little Penguin books: Nikolai Gogol, Mark Twain, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I started with Fyodor.
Cue, Mrs. Benedetto. In our English class we had to write in a daily journal and share or expound upon whatever we liked, what we’ve read in other classes, newspapers, magazines, other books, from the readings in class, you could even write things of your own creation — stories of summer camp hikes, christmas time caroling, or stories of your favorite family dog. Not long after my fateful trip to the bookstore, I had been mulling over a certain quote that had stuck with me, and decided to write about it in a little entry before recess. The quote? “They sometimes talk about man’s bestial cruelty but that is being totally unfair and unjust to the beast, for a beast can never be as cruel as a man, so artistically, so picturesquely cruel.” Not long after reaching that sunny patch of grassy hill drenched by noon day sun, I hear my name ring out and Mrs. Benedetto calls me back into the classroom. She holds up my journal and asks me, “Where did you read this from?” I pulled the book out of my bag and showed her. The next day she brought me her Norton Anthology of Literature. We started at Canterbury Tales — where else?! — and moved on from there.
I devoured those words like home cooked meals — this coming from a bachelor in Harlem who eats with rather utilitarian efforts as of late. Simply to nourish. Words to me were what I came to cherish about the communicative arts. Their sounds, their distinctions, each one pertaining to some special entity entirely separate from any other — or sometimes incredibly close to a few, but slightly different in meaning, or in terms of poetry different sounding — the way they would come together, fall into place, get wrapped around my head like a towel drying co-ed walking around distracting me from studies or no doubt inspiring countless words and endless lines conjuring stars and moonlight and an effusive earnestness to rhyme! My first poems were wonderful little couplets, strict yet funny. Succinct and sweet.
The best part about this Norton Anthology was not the hard maroon cover and faded gold writing that made it mysterious, or the thin tissue-like paper on which these glorious words were typed, but the fact that I could approach these words whenever I wanted and however I wanted. She gave me suggestions and pointed me in certain directions but largely my literary fancy started with just plain opportunity and curiosity. And having one awesome teacher.
Johne Donne’s poem, “Break of Day”, stood out from the page and never left my side. I come back to it from time to time and it always brings me back to a simpler time when there was a chance for wonder, curiosity, and literary delight. Getting wrapped in thoughts that wrap around meter and rhyme pouring over to the next line and onto a different stanza. It was like hiking down into the Grand Canyon or sliding down a barber shop pole following the little stripe. The sights along the way were something I’d never forget. So often do I read thousands of words in one day traipsing up and down this city that speaks volumes in advertising and news publications and others I try to tune all the noise out from my mind, not letting anything in — though impossible, because you eventually have to look up, and because now, I think thanks to my own need and love I have for writing, everything speaks to me. I hear things in the sunshine through strong chugs of white puffs along a celeste afternoon. I hear things in sidewalk cracks. In the tumbleweed of trash and bags that get stuck to trees now budding. There are so many stories to write, so many lines to walk, because there is so much around us only waiting to be heard. Here’s to you finding that poem. That phrase. That word.
Happy Poetry Month.
(these were thoughts on John Donne written on the Third of April 2012)