Analysis of ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ by John Donne

A Valediction: forbidding Mourning

John Donne was a poet who shot to fame a century after his death. He lived in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century and during his life time wrote various genres of poems. His manuscripts were widely read and appreciated but nothing got published. It was in the nineteenth century that his works got published and the fact that commentaries and analysis are being written even today shows that it has stood the test of time. His early poems were erotic but when life hit him hard in the form of illness, financial strain and deaths of near and dear ones, his works became more sombre and took a pious tone. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, written in 1611, is a simple love poem which has overtones of spiritual love.

The speaker or poet is forced to spend time away from his love and he tells her that their farewell should have no signs of mourning. Just as virtuous men die silently so too they must part with any drama of tears and sighs. These shakes and sighs are compared to the tremors of the earth which cause considerable damage but the effects were not ever lasting. On the other hand his love was like the subtle movements of the planets and stars. Though subtle its effects were long lasting. The poet is saying that his love is not as shallow as an earthquake but as deep and broad as the heavenly movements. The people whose love is shallow and merely physical cannot bear the separation, but in his case there was no such worry.

All through the poem he is comparing his love. The next one is with gold. Even though they are going to part they would be still be one. Gold is a soft metal which once heated can be beaten and stretched but will not break. In the same manner their souls will stretch and be in touch and not break down. The next one is a metaphor of compass. His wife is the fixed foot of a compass while he is the one who is moving around; as he is about to move off. Only when the firm foot stands steady the one which moves can make a perfect circle. So too anchoring himself in his wife he has decided to move out and come back to where he started.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning has nine stanzas of four lines known as quatrains and they rhyme scheme followed is ABAB. The meter is iambic tetrameter which means there are four sets of one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable. Enjambment, where the thought is carried on to the next line, is used in these lines

Dull sublunary lovers’ love

(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit               and

Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show

To move…..

There is a play of metaphors in this poem. At first is the metaphor is of a dying man. Then their love is compared to the movement of the celestial bodies, to gold being beaten and stretched and finally to a compass used to draw a circle.

The speaker of the poem is John Donne who wrote this poem when he was about to leave his home for a long trip. His wife would remain at home taking care of their children. It must be the sad look on his wife’s face that he has given so many comparisons to make her feel that he was going away only to come back to her after his assigned work.  The title also is apt as it states that in this good bye mourning is forbidden.

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