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.

A Mother’s Answer – Louisa Lawson

A Mother’s Answer

You ask me, dear child, why thus sadly I weep
For baby the angels have taken to keep;
Altho’ she is safe, and for ever at rest,
A yearning to see her will rise in my breast.
I pray and endeavour to quell it in vain,
But stronger it comes and yet stronger again,
Till all the bright thoughts of her happier lot
Are lost in this one — my baby is not.
And while I thus yearn so intensely to see
This child that the angels are keeping for me,
I doubt for the time where her spirit has flown —
If the love e’en of angels can fully atone
For the loss of a mother’s, mysterious and deep.
I own that thought sinful, yet owning it — weep.

Louisa Lawson (1848 – 1920)

She was the mother of Henry Lawson and she bore five children. Henry Lawson is well known and his short stories on early Australian life are exemplary (refer to the collection – ‘While the Billy Boils’)

The passion exhibited in Louisa Lawson’s sonnet was due to the death of an infant daughter. This poem was published  in the Mudgee Independent and brought recognition to her poetic skill.

The first part of the sonnet stresses the inescapable loss, independent of any angels keeping her safe. Then there is a clear change at the volta; after the first eight lines. Atonement is not possible even the love of all the angels is insufficient. She regards her thought sinful, but it is only a thought. She is quite willing to own it; but it makes no difference. Nothing can appease her grief.

Louisa Lawson had a very hard life. She was a long-suffering bush-woman. After her husband Peter left, she worked tirelessly to secure income for the family. A very gifted person who was a prominent suffragette working for the emancipation of women. She setup the publication Dawn and used this to promote emancipation.

For full details on her life see – Biography – Louisa Lawson – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

And a link to Henry Lawson.

Memorial day for the war dead. Yehuda Amichai – Analysis

Memorial day for the war dead.
Add now the grief of all your losses to their grief, 
even of a woman that has left you.  Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.
Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread, 
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God. 
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding." 
No use to weep inside and to scream outside. 
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.
Memorial day.  Bitter salt is dressed up 
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.
The flautist's mouth will stay like that for many days. 
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.
A flag loses contact with reality and flies off. 
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.
A great and royal animal is dying 
all through the night under the jasmine
tree with a constant stare at the world.
A man whose son died in the war walks in the street 
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding."
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

Yehuda Amichai was born in Germany to an Orthodox Jewish family and became steeped in Judaism and fluent in Hebrew. The family moved to Israel when he was 12 years old. He is considered, both in Israel and internationally, as Israel’s greatest modern poet, and one of the leading poets worldwide. Note that this is an English translation from the Hebrew.

The Title – Memorial Day started as an event to honour Union soldiers who had died during the American Civil War. It was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honoured their dead. … This meant that from 1971, the Memorial Day holiday has been officially observed on the last Monday in May.

S1 … However, as you will realise when reading the poem Memorial Day has been expanded by his words to include all who suffer from the death of a loved one. This includes the metaphorical death associated with the separation by a woman. And what is suggested in the very first stanza that why not make it a Memorial Day for all who are in a state of grief. A mixing of sorrow with sorrow.

 S2 … There is so much sorrow in the world, and so much sorrow caused by the sad imperfection of humanity that there is a complaint to a toothless God who does nothing to alleviate the situation. Is this a factual statement though? But there is a to touch of optimism in that maybe some sweet happiness exists behind the horror

S3 … Children who are perhaps impervious to grief, or at least extensive grief, join in the memorial walking as if stepping over broken glass. I do like the way grief is identified with the symbol broken glass.

S4 … I don’t know how long it takes a flautist’s mouth to reshape. Perhaps the suggestion that grief is likewise lasting. A dead soldier swimming above little heads indicates to me the dead are alive to the children but above their comprehension. The dead are in an alien environment like existing in water and needing to swim.

S5 … Memorial days tend to give emphasis to nationality and sometimes this becomes too dominant – a flag loses contact with reality and flies off. Israel and Judaism can be symbolically compared to a beautiful woman dressed up on display. Blue and white are theologically important colours in Judaism. But there is always a certain shadow when thinking of Israel. In this poem represented by three languages attaching to everything alluding to the Palestine conflict with the resultant language death. Hebrew and Arabic and the respective nations must coexist although as we have seen so clearly in recent days any hope for a lasting peace between the warring factions is unlikely.

S6 … My thought is that the great royal animal must have religious significance. This may be a reference to the dying of ‘that religion’ as it looks on in disgust at what is happening in the region. Again inaction is associated with staring and this is in line with the toothless nature of God already mentioned in the second stanza.

S7 … A very moving way to carry a dead person within the grief of the living – like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb. But the ending line is not a line of ‘perhaps’ but a line stating that behind all this some great happiness IS hiding. There is a note of optimism.

Hopefully that latent happiness will surface with the advent of a lasting peace in the region. But this is a poem about sorrow in general and for those in great sorrow for whatever reason there is still that great hidden happiness however hard it may be to realise.

Yehuda Amichai on Wikipedia – Yehuda Amichai – Wikipedia

Mrs Lazarus – Carol Ann Duffy – Analysis

Mrs Lazarus

I had grieved. I had wept for a night and a day
over my loss, ripped the cloth I was married in
from my breasts, howled, shrieked, clawed
at the burial stones until my hands bled, retched
his name over and over again, dead, dead.

Gone home. Gutted the place. Slept in a single cot,
widow, one empty glove, white femur
in the dust, half. Stuffed dark suits
into black bags, shuffled in a dead man's shoes,
noosed the double knot of a tie around my bare neck,

gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself. I learnt
the Stations of Bereavement, the icon of my face
in each bleak frame; but all those months
he was going away from me, dwindling
to the shrunk size of a snapshot, going,

going. Till his name was no longer a certain spell
for his face. The last hair on his head
floated out from a book. His scent went from the house.
The will was read. See, he was vanishing
to the small zero held by the gold of my ring.

Then he was gone. Then he was legend, language;
my arm on the arm of the schoolteacher-the shock
of a man's strength under the sleeve of his coat-
along the hedgerows. But I was faithful
for as long as it took. Until he was memory.

So I could stand that evening in the field
in a shawl of fine air, healed, able
to watch the edge of the moon occur to the sky
and a hare thump from a hedge; then notice
the village men running towards me, shouting,

behind them the women and children, barking dogs,
and I knew. I knew by the sly light
on the blacksmith's face, the shrill eyes
of the barmaid, the sudden hands bearing me
into the hot tang of the crowd parting before me.

He lived. I saw the horror on his face.
I heard his mother's crazy song. I breathed
his stench; my bridegroom in his rotting shroud,
moist and dishevelled from the grave's slack chew,
croaking his cuckold name, disinherited, out of his time.

Carol Ann Duffy (1955 -

This is a poem from her book – The World’s Wife.

It is all about grief and CAD is not short in using powerful words in expressing deep grief at the death of a husband. Her words clearly show that the extent of grief is overwhelming. Not to the extent of a suttee. In that case the return to life would be a really dramatic tragedy – if that was a possibility after the burning!

It is obviously based on the Lazzarus account in the Bible but it is a very different Lazarus in her poem in that the return to life is after quite a considerable time period and not the four days of the Bible.

Looking at some of the ways the grief is expressed …

S1 … clawed at the burial stones until my hands bled, retched his name … self-harm is an indication of strong grief, unfortunately in the past in some societies it has been expected of the wife … and the stones parallel the biblical event

S2 … shuffled in a dead man’s shoes, noosed the double knot of a tie around my bare neck … using the clothes of the parted in relation to grief concentrates the emotional tie and there is the suggestion of suicide.

S3 … the icon of my face in each bleak frame … she reduces herself to an icon = an object of uncritical devotion … and herself just a bleak object – framed

S4 … vanishing to the small zero held by the gold of my ring … this is a very original way to state the finalisation of fading grief … the wedding ring becoming a zero

S5 … Then he is gone in the sense that all that mammoth grieving state has been exhausted and he is gone. Her grieving over. And she was faithful for as long as it took.

S6 … Mrs Lazarus is now at peace with herself … in a field absorbed by the beauty of nature – healed, able to watch the edge of the moon occur to the sky – … but not for long!

S7 … she knows intuitively what is behind the raucous crowd as it comes before her … the introduction to the dramatic conclusion of the last stanza.

S8 … his mother would certainly be crazy if alive herself – a second birth of ghastly sight – I heard his mother’s crazy song … the implication being that Mrs Lazarus has equivalent feelings.   That dramatic last line defines his newfound status – croaking his cuckold name, disinherited, out of his time. It is up to the reader to explore the implication – I wonder if family would relish the return of property for example for the will has been read.

But this poem presents serious consideration on situations when a partner dies or becomes dead in the sense that they leave the relationship never to return. But sometimes there are situations when they do return with dramatic effect. For example consider ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ in the Thomas Hardy story.

Till death do us part is a statement of relational adherence. But I think it mainly concerns the way two people are engaged in life in their transactions. There is that personal question of how long to wait before, and if ever, in developing another relationship especially a sexual one. And because of the religious parallel how much does religion play a part in the decision making.

Well the relationship between Mr and Mrs Lazarus might have been very taught although the text seems otherwise from the Mrs Lazarus point of view. But I doubt if Mr Lazarus would consider Till death do us part in a literal sense. After all the chances of finding another partner look exceedingly bleak for he is bereft of all his possessions and didn’t quite look that attractive!

There is a little bit of humour evident in the poem albeit of a black nature. You must admire the colourful way CAD uses her poetic skills in the build up to the last two stanzas.

Carol Ann Duffy relinquished her role as UK Poet Laureate in May 2019 when Simon Armitage took over.

Carol Ann Duffy on Wikipedia

In the Valley of Cauteretz – Tennyson

In the Valley of Cauteretz
All along the valley, stream that flashest white,
Deepening thy voice with the deepening of the night,
All along the valley, where thy waters flow,
I walked with one I loved two and thirty years ago.
All along the valley, while I walked today,
The two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away ;
For all along the valley, down thy rocky bed,
Thy living voice to me was as the voice of the dead,
And all along the valley, by rock and cave and tree,
The voice of the dead was a living voice to me.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

Tennyson went to the Pyrenees with Arthur Hallam in 1830. This was his favourite valley. Hallam was a very close friend from days at Trinity College Cambridge. Hallam died of a stroke at the age of 22. This had a profound effect on Tennyson and resulted in one of his most memorable of poems ‘In Memoriam’.

Tennyson went to this valley again in 1861. And at the time of his birthday around 6 August Tennyson composed these lines. He wrote the piece ‘after hearing the voice of the torrent seemingly grow deeper as the night grew’. And he said afterwards that ‘I like the little piece as well as anything I have written’.

This is a poem about memory and grief and how personal association can trigger a deep emotional response. He again heard the voice of his dead friend albeit a mind voice. And he was back again when he was first walking with Hallam in the valley – ‘the two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away’.

How do you handle those golden moments of life that assail the mind long after their initial impact? They are precious and a handy resource … for use in meditation perhaps … or any time when you are low and need a lift. A case of distilling the essence from life experience to hold for spiritual sustenance. Hopefully a relive of joy and peace as day to day life continues.

Note … Tennyson appreciated nature. He was an avid walker and at one stage while in Cornwall walked 10 miles each day for ten consecutive days. The poem also poses the question on how the natural environment communicates with us. A background to our definition.

Tennyson became Poet Laureate after Wordsworth.

Alfred Lord Tennyson on Wikipedia – Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Wikipedia

Donal Og – Lady Augusta Gregory – Comments

Donal Og (young Donal)

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday
and myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother has said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me, you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

Anonymous (8th century Irish ballad)
Translated by Lady Augusta Gregory

From WikipediaIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager. With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies.

From the Guardian
The translation from the Gaelic leaves much of the original’s grammatical structure in place, giving her English remarkable energy

Well, in the 8th century a woman needed a man for financial support and a living apart from love getting in the way.

And it is the same old story of a lover promising the world and the beloved half believing through misty eyes. The promises detailed in terms of agricultural life – that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked. And she giving three hundred cries and none were heard. She knew his promises were meaningless – you promised me a thing that is not possible. But did that matter? Lovers are generally  prone to be forgiving of the faults in others.

And religion joins forces with her passion it being Passion Sunday the day she gave herself to him and to him forever – my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

She is in deep depression at the loss of love; the loss of him – it was you put that darkness over my life.

The counsel of her mother was too late – it was a bad time she took for telling me that; / it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

That last line brings in religion again – and my fear is great that you have taken God from me! Perhaps she believes that if she does commit suicide God would be taken from her. And perhaps she is feeling suicidal. Commit is not the word to use today in that association.

This lament is the story of love, grief and despair which flows endless through the centuries.

Eavan Boland – Tribute – ‘And Soul’

 

Irish poet Eavan Boland died at the end of April at the age of 75 from a stroke. Born in Dublin in 1944, Eavan Boland is one of the foremost female voices in Irish literature. She created a much needed female balance to Irish poetry on the same level as Yeats and Heaney.

She was known for documenting women’s lives, including their domestic lives. Her work covered the role of women in Irish history and culture. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards in 2017 for what was described as her art, her eloquence and her stalwart advocacy for poetry.

Her first collection of poems was published when she was still a student and she went on to have a long career as a poet, editor and teacher. In recent years, she divided her time between Ireland the US. She was Professor of English and director of the creative writing programme at Stanford University.

For more information

A link to a tribute to Eavan Boland

A link to Wikipedia


I have chosen the following poem because it reflects her love of Dublin and gives her personal thoughts as she drove through wet weather to visit her dying mother. The Liffey is the river that flows through Dublin.

And Soul

My mother died one summer –
the wettest in the records of the state.
Crops rotted in the west.
Checked tablecloths dissolved in back gardens.
Empty deckchairs collected rain.
As I took my way to her
through traffic, through lilacs dripping blackly
behind houses
and on curbsides, to pay her
the last tribute of a daughter, I thought of something
I remembered
I heard once, that the body is, or is
said to be, almost all water and as I turned southward, that ours is a
city of it,
one in which
every single day the elements begin
a journey towards each other that will never,
given our weather,
fail –
the ocean visible in the edges cut by it,
cloud colour reaching into air,
the Liffey storing one and summoning the other,
salt greeting the lack of it at the North Wall and,
as if that wasn’t enough, all of it
ending up almost every evening
inside our speech –
coast canal ocean river stream and now
mother and I drove on and although
the mind is unreliable in grief, at
the next cloudburst, it almost seemed
they could be shades of each other,
the way the body is
of every one of them and now
they were on the move again – fog into mist,
mist into sea spray and both into the oily glaze
that lay on the railings of
the house she was dying in
as I went inside.

Eavan Boland (1944 – 2020)

Quite clearly it is a soaking wet city and enforces the Ireland rain connection to the mind. But it does give a shadowy grey dismal emotive background associated with pending death.

It is interesting for it is almost as if she connects the unending rain with her mother as if there is a transference or absorption – ‘it almost seems they could be the shades of each other, / the way the body is’. This reflection is readily accessible by the reader and her thoughts obviously dominated by having to journey through the city in wet weather and it being the wettest summer ever.

The title ‘And Soul’ is thought provoking. My thoughts are that ‘soul’ is always secondary and latent, if you like behind everything and in this case very much behind this personal experience when driving in the rain. 

This poem contrasts with my previous Post of Wallace Steven’s poem ‘The Snow Man’ where a different transference is involved and where words need much thought.

RIP – absorbed in Ireland beautiful.

Demain, dès l’aube – Victor Hugo

Demain, dès l’aube

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Tomorrow, at dawn, at the hour when the countryside whitens,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
I will depart. You see, I know you wait for me.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
I will go through the forest and over the mountains.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.
I cannot stay far from you any longer.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
I will trudge on, my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Ignoring everything around me, without hearing a sound,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Alone, unknown, back stooped, hands crossed,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.
Saddened, and the day will be like night for me.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
I will neither see the golden glow of the falling evening,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Nor the sails going down to Harfleur in the distance,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
And when I arrive, I will place on your tomb
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.
A bouquet of green holly and flowering heather.

Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)

This is one of French writer Victor Hugo’s most famous poems. It was published in his 1856 collection Les Contemplations

Harfleur – was the principal seaport in north-western France for six centuries, until Le Havre was built about five kilometres downstream. The suffix fleur comes from Old Norse Flöthe meaning ‘estuary or arm of the sea’ – and not flower. The precise meaning of the prefix “har” is unknown.

It was written after the death of his daughter. A fully focused personal journey of communion. It is a very moving poem.

Here is a reading of the french with a musical background.

I took the translation from the internet. I would prefer some less literal minor changes … for example, in the last stanza –

I will neither see the golden glow of falling evening,
nor the sails going down in the distance at Harfleur,
and when I arrive, I will place on your grave
a bouquet of green holly and heather in flower.

However, I do love the french and nothing can equal the beauty of the original language.

Victor Hugo on Wikipedia … he will always be remembered for Les Miserables