Updated: Jul 21
John Donne's 'A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning' is a profound metaphysical poem that explores the nature of love and separation. He wrote this poem on the occasion of separating from his lovable wife, Anne More Donne, in 1611 when he had to go to France and leave his wife in England. It was published in 1633, along with The Sun Rising and many other poems as part of Donne's collection 'Songs and Sonnets'. Challenging conventional ideas of love, it offers a unique perspective on parting. Through rich imagery and metaphors, Donne delves into the spiritual connection between two lovers, emphasizing the enduring power of true affection. In this poem summary, we will explore the profound themes and poetic brilliance that make 'A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning' a masterpiece of metaphysical poetry.
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun
Work Summary: A Valediction Forbidding Mourning Poem Summary
In John Donne's poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," the poet eloquently explores the theme of parting and the enduring nature of true love. He emphasizes the importance of maintaining composure and not excessively mourning, as he believes that openly grieving would diminish the sanctity and intimacy of their love. He presents the death of a virtuous man as an example of a quiet and dignified departure, urging his wife to bid him farewell in a similar manner.
To illustrate the strength of their bond, Donne compares their love to natural disasters. While earthquakes may alarm and capture attention due to their earthly impact, the movements of heavenly bodies go unnoticed as they are far greater in scale. Similarly, the poet and his wife possess a love that exceeds the physical realm. Their connection is rooted in a deep spiritual and intellectual bond, allowing them to endure physical separation without pain or despair.
Donne employs vivid metaphors to further illustrate their connection. He compares their souls to fine metal that expands when hammered, suggesting that their love only grows stronger and more resilient when they are in the distance. Additionally, he compares their love to a compass, with him and his wife as the two needles. Though physically apart, their love acts as the fixed foot of the compass, drawing them together despite the apparent separation.
Ultimately, Donne assures his wife that their love will remain strong and unshaken. He depicts her as the stationary foot of the compass, providing stability and grounding while he explores the world. When he returns, their reunion is marked by excitement and a sense of completeness. In this way, their love forms a perfect circle, beginning and ending with each other in the circle.
Donne, John and Shawcross, John T. "The complete poetry of John Donne". 1966: Garden city. N.Y. Anchor Books.
~ Literpretation Team for Education