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A Valediction: “Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne

The metaphysical poet John Donne is one of those poets that are deservedly called the pre-eminent and prolific masters of poetry. His poem called A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning written in 1611 was a wonderful reflection of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poetry features. The title of the poem seems very intriguing. The first thought that comes to mind is a description of sorrow caused by the upcoming death of a person who asks not to mourn over him/her. However, the literal meaning of the poem needs to be clarified as well as all other metaphysical poems’. The sense of this one largely comprises the temporary parting of the two lovers and the author’s request to make it all quietly and without extra tears and protests. The meaning that is traced throughout the poem is the description of the actual poet’s sorrow, although he is the one to intend to depart quietly. The author’s work became one of the most prolific poems, although two years after his death, due to the metaphysical approach to the theme of two loving hearts, which is the connotative meaning.

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Every line of the poem is worth particularly talking about. However, there are several special elements to pay attention to. The author magnificently expressed his feelings through metaphors, comparisons, and even conceit. The latter focuses on the two lovers being like the sides of the geometer’s compass, this is a huge comparison embracing the gap between them as if the entire Earth distance is standing on their way. So, the very first theme brought up by the author is the death of virtuous men. But it is not a simple description of sorrow over virtuous men. The poet compares the death of those to the separation of the two lovers. Moreover, since the relationships were wonderful and they had lovely lives with each other, they die ‘mildly’; this death cannot care for them at all. Donnes masterfully explains the eternal wish of men to separate quietly because of the memories they have had. Otherwise, the “laity” people will hear them and perhaps condemn them due to their unawareness of what love is (Kennedy 1038). It is said that their love is a “religion of love” and making loud protests would be insulting spiritual and sexual relations they have had (Kennedy 1038).

Nevertheless, the man feels the same way as a woman does. He expresses his inner world nearly collapsing through the metaphor “trepidation of the spheres” (Kennedy 1038). This means a lot to those who knew medieval astronomy, where the Ptolemaic universe had an outer layer the shaking of which would engage all other spheres shaking. The latter means the man’s cold obedience to the circumstances but an inner burst of emotions. Lines 17 through 20 prove the speaker’s love that transcends the physical. It is amazing how he says that no carnal is essential and they will not need each other’s lips, hands, etc as long as they know they love each other. Their love is something beyond understanding and they simply do not know what the secret of it is but it does exist.

One of the most powerful moments, also mentioned above, is the comparison of the two lovers with the foot of compass. It is an astonishing continuation when the speaker claims their love is eternal and this is what makes him be strong and carry out his journey. He will surely return home because of their lover’s fidelity. Moreover, the author highlights here that he passes on ‘obliquely’ as of describing the angle of the compass opened. Furthermore, some sexual implications might be traced here when the author adds sexual puns to highlight the soon reunion with his wife. The compass conceit is her firmness and his utmost desire to complete the trip as soon as possible.

So, the denotation is death. This theme is not uncommon for Donne’s poems. The poem was written right before the author embark on a ship to France and Germany. So, he decided to compare the necessity to leave with a death. However, the entire poem is actually about love which is not dying, of course, it is enduring the hardships. Magnificently and masterfully the author described the feelings through metaphysical objects in the work. Although the poem is called A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning there is no overall sadness left after reading because of a substantial bunch of components: explanation of the situation, feelings, and sexual implications. Besides, the reader understands the author wants to see his wife again and this separation is temporary.

The conclusion is that the poem is very effective with all these themes used to describe the fidelity of love and loyalty of the two lovers. The comparisons, metaphors, and conceit are amazingly reflecting the social order of those times where women were firm in their sexual and social beliefs. The love connotation has been conveyed perfectly through several facets of this life’s issues: religion, societal censure, and relations between a man and a woman.

Works Cited

Kennedy, X., J., et al. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. London: Longman, 2009. Print.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 11). A Valediction: “Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/a-valediction-forbidding-mourning-by-john-donne/

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "A Valediction: “Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne." December 11, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/a-valediction-forbidding-mourning-by-john-donne/.

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