A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning – John Donne

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning 
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 th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
   And makes me end where I begun.
John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Valediction = the action of farewell … a statement or address made at that time

S1 … well this sets the scene on the way you should say farewell … it also illustrates the spiritual journey from earthy presence to that of eternity … a gentle passing of the soul … a farewell from one state to another.

S2 … Do not sound trumpets of sorrow and moaning when making a farewell to a loved one. This only cheapens that love. Let it be an internal grief rather than a display to the public combined with a spiritual recognition of the love

S3 … Then the metaphor of describing the physical earthly relationship with that of the spirit in terms of world natural happenings that are seen such as earthquakes with what is happening in the far-flung regions of the universe where nought can be seen with the human eye. Interesting that JD regards the distant regions as innocent, I suppose not contaminated by human existence.

S4 … Concentration on the sensual aspect and the loss of physical contact. This is a non-acceptance of the absence. For those more spiritually inclined there is no absence because a spiritual connection exists. Holding on the spiritual connection is not easy at the time of immediate grief.

S5 … The physical aspect of love is defined by – the eyes, lips, and touch of hands. This is compared with the spiritual aspect held in the mind by thought and prayer.

S6 … Two souls as one … an expansion – like the beating of gold. Apparently, gold can be beaten into very thin sheet … a transformation process, is likened to that of the separation process … properties remain but in a different ‘shape’

S7 … The compass is used as a way of defining a permanent relationship between the two people. The fixed part is the one left behind / the one loved. You then circle around this central figure. The central arm of the compass always following and facing you as you move. It is poetic to think of our creator acting like this, following and supporting us in every move.

S8 … The fixed part leans towards the lover if far away from centre. And the two arms of a compass can come together for close contact.

S9 … JD declares the importance of the circle. The circle is seen as perfect. It is only perfected by the firmness of the central arm. And, of course, the circle is endless; back to the starting point again; the origin love.

This is a poem all about contrasting physical and earthly love with that of the spirit. At the same time advising not sounding trumpets of sorrow and moaning when making a farewell to a loved one. And that there should be no mourning because a spiritual identity is on-going in the relationship based on love. There is a difference between mourning and grief.

mourning = the expression of an experience that is the consequence of an event in life involving loss, causing grief.

grief = intense sorrow, an emotional state

The spiritual connection is often a very background compensation.

There is plenty of analysis of this well-known poem on the Internet – A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Poem Summary and Analysis | LitCharts

John Donne on Wikipedia

And when thinking of the circle I remember the T. S. Eliot plaque in the church at East Coker, Somerset commemorating his life. His famous well-known words – in my beginning is my end … in my end is my beginning.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. I will say goodbye until tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning – John Donne

  1. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    Interesting – according to Melanie Klein mourning can be creative and reconstructing. Despite Donne’s injunction the poem seems to achieve this in a reconstruction of a sense of self; beginning over again.

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