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.

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

 The Company of Lovers – Judith Wright – ANZAC Day

 The Company of Lovers

We meet and part now over all the world;
we, the lost company,
take hands together in the night, forget
the night in our brief happiness, silently.
We, who sought many things, throw all away
for this one thing, one only,
remembering that in the narrow grave
we shall be lonely.

Death marshals up his armies round us now.
Their footsteps crowd too near.
Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart
and for a time I live without my fear.
Grope in the night to find me and embrace,
for the dark preludes of the drums begin,
and round us round the company of lovers,
death draws his cordons in.

Judith Wright (1915 -2000)

This poem was written during World War II which brought much separation especially for those travelling from Australia to the various battlefields.

A precious pre-leaving meet between lovers … with no thought of tomorrow … forget the night … for some the long unending night … and those that never returned leave the grave narrow and lonely for any surviving lovers. Today we remember.

There is that foreboding and anticipation of the worst … death draws his cordons in

Another of my favourite Judith Wright poems, again with a cerrtain sense of foreboding, is … ‘Trains’  – Judith Wright

 

Bowled Over – Ted Hughes – Analysis

Bowled Over

By kiss of death, bullet on brow,
No more life can overpower
That first infatuation, world cannot
Ever be harder or clearer or come
Closer than when it arrived there

Spinning its patched fields, churches
Trees where nightingales sang in broad daylight
And vast flaring blue skirts of sea –
Then sudden insubordination
Of boredom and sleep

When the eyes could not find their keys
Or the neck remember what mother whispered
Or the body stand to its word.

Desertion in the face of a bullet!

Buried without honours.

Ted Hughes 1930 – 1998 (fromWodwo, 1967)

Wodwo – the first release from Ted Hughes following the death of Sylvia Plath in February 1963.

Looking at this poem in the context of the personal life of TH and SP and not just the loss of first love euphoria …

S1 … well that first intense feeling of love, falling in love when young and foolish, never to come again perhaps – in short being bowled over (apt cricket words for a Yorkshire man) – and a knock-out blow as in a kiss of death or bullet on the brow … this is a reflection looking back to that feeling – and what a feeling it was – the world never harder never clearer – my immediate thoughts on that first encounter of TH with SP, reflecting back some four years after her death … would that feeling ever come again … a very hard road after the death of SP and the catering for his two children from their marriage

S2 … this is what it is all about … love sending the mind spinning – a dizzy feeling as the environment adjusts to the euphoria and nightingales sing in daylight … shows how the world changes with emotional state – but then the last two lines – insubordination, disobedience, a rebellion boredom and sleep … the coming down from the hilltop … putting into the context of his broken marriage a self-disobedience (but living with SP and her mental instability not easy)

S3 … the resultant effect of his disobedience – eyes could not find their keys – what a wonderful way of saying that he could never unlock the door to the way it was … and
the neck never able to remember – thinking of the comfort of a mother to a boy in bed who could not rest … and then in terms of words – false to the word, false to the word of love by his disobedience

S4 … desertion in the face of a bullet (love) … perhaps this maybe the way he feels … well it was his initiative when he left SP – however, he didn’t completely desert her and cared very much for her well-being and helped her find accommodation in London

S5 … Buried without honours … a sense of depression on the way things had turned out … perhaps a wish he had stayed with SP – especially after the aftermath resultant from her tragic death … love buried without honours.

Independent of the personal context of TH and SP. This poem is a look back on the common life experience of first love euphoria after the relationship has ended for whatever reason. The relationship always remains part of us in some form or other. Whether it is buried without honours or carried forward as a latent embellishment is another matter.

TH served as  UK Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998. A link to Ted Hughes on Wikipedia.

Walking Away – Cecil Day-Lewis – Comments

Walking Away

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Cecil Day-Lewis

Apparently this poem is dedicated to Day-Lewis’s first son, Sean, and recalls a day when he was watching Sean go in to school, reflecting back after many years.

This poem is all about moving on … leaving behind that which has been … and growing up you can never return to the way it was … whether it be childhood or not … but you have this something to take with you and carry latent as a force in your future … whether or not that childhood has been happy or not … and for those left behind as you walk away it is always a sad affair but part of life. Love must be proved in the letting go.

It is particularily hard for parents to release their off-spring when they are moving away from home. And in the same vein it is hard for those that have had strong personal bonds in a relationship when it is time to say good-bye whether or not of a permanent nature.

Rhyming in the first, third and fifth lines of each stanza. And an interesting thought in the last stanza. God gives and walks away expecting some development. How selfhood begins with a walking away – humanity standing on its own two feet so to speak but I do think it kind of needs a little direction at times even if from a far away place. Hopefully there is still some form of contact!

Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) CBE (27 April 1904 – 22 May 1972) was an Anglo-Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. He also wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. He is the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and documentary filmmaker and television chef Tamasin Day-Lewis.

More on Cecil Day-Lewis via Wikipedia

 

Cut – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Cut
For Susan O’Neill Roe

What a thrill —-
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian’s axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz.

A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.

Whose side are they on?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Saboteur,
Kamikaze man —

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Babushka
Darkens and tarnishes and when

The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump —
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.

Sylvia Plath  – 24 October 1962
(1932 – 1963)

Short sharp snappy words cut to a core … appropriate construction considering the event being described … there is no time for long deliberation. She would not have had time to compose the poem at the time of the incident but it certainly provided material for her to write a poem. It was dedicated to her nanny Susan O’Neill Roe who looked after her two young children and perhaps provided the time for her to write this work.

‘Cut’ was one of many productive poems generated in October 1962 when SP lived in London after the separation with Ted Hughes and is included in her Ariel collection.

S1 … it looks like an accident when cutting an onion … but it comes as a thrill as though something exciting has happened in a dull life … or, knowing SP’s history, during a depressive state … so instead of looking on the initial experience with horror SP steps back and lets the cut open a window for exploration … the hinge indicating an escape

S2 … this is what happens as she views the cut as the first pulse of blood comes into the dead white skin … flap like a hat – nice one syllable internal rhyme

S3 … the thumb is a little pilgrim (re: American history and the scalping of missionaries by Indians) … the thumb takes on personification … a drop of blood falls on the carpet into wool and a very apt description of the red flow into wool – like a turkey wattle

S4 … perhaps SP inadvertently treads on the blood on the carpet … she might at this stage try to stop the bleeding too … her thumb becomes a bottle of ‘pink fizz’ … so there might have been quite an initial squirt … to die out as she deals with the flow by clutching on to her thumb perhaps with her other hand

S5 … SP likens the blood flow to the Redcoats (British) in the American Civil War escaping through a gap as her blood is escaping through the cut … and as she is now escaping from the drudgery of life by this event that has given her such an unexpected thrill

S6 … well, which side is the blood on … it is her blood and escaping from her … she now realises that all is not well and she has started to feel pain so takes a pill … the thumb now becomes a little man (homunculus) … some commentators have equated this reference to Ted Hughes as he has been cut-off … but like her thumb SP cannot completely cut-off TH or the flap of skin.

S7 … a thin papery feeling – apt description of the sensation as she touches the thmb … and again the male reference to a saboteur and more extreme a kamikaze – a suicide … again thoughts go to TH … whether she would like to remove TH is this fashion or alternatively whether TH has caused the cut himself by leaving her … part of her missing

S8 … it seems she has now put a gauze dressing on the thumb to stem the bleeding and that it soaked and stained the material … another male reference this time to the exclusive group the Ku Klux Klan (an extreme group that advocated white supremacy) and the gauze takes on a Russian flavour – babushka (a headscarf tied under the chin, typical of those traditionally worn by Russian women) … the thumb becomes a head wound

S9 … the flow of blood … the heart pulp … is eventually contained … the blood mill is silenced, the fizz gone … the heart equated to a mill continually circulating … and the bandage, or babushka, dirtied … and like the first stanza there is strong emotion in a jump … a jump in her thought …

S10 … the trepanned veteran (trepan – to ensnarl) … and, following my poetic fancy, – she has been caught by the TH /Assia Wevill adultery and is now a dirty girl … SP is soiled by this experience, part of herself left hanging … and then the last line – the thumb reverts to just a stump rather than any implied poetic considerations of earlier stanzas – something she just has to live with – just as she has to live with the broken relationship with TH.