A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning is one of
John Donne’s most famously metaphorical poems of which he wrote in 1611, just
before he left his wife and children to go and travel to France and Germany.
Throughout this essay I will be exploring the poems themes, such as friendship,
romance and loyalty, as well as Donne’s use of poetic techniques, for example;
the use of rhyme, structure, imagery and the voice of the speaker.
poem has 9, 4 line stanzas and a regular rhyme scheme of ABAB.
virtuous men pass mildly away,
whisper to their souls to go,
some of their sad friends do say,
breath goes now,” and some say, “No.”
The rigid structure and regular rhyme scheme
mimic the consistency and stability of the argument that Donne presents.
title of the poem is very direct and immediately tells the speaker what the
poem is going to be about. The lexis ‘Valediction’ is the action of saying
farewell, letting the readers know that somebody is going to be leaving, yet
the second part of the title, ‘Forbidding Mourning’ indicates that the other,
cannot be upset when they do so. The title as a whole sounds like the title of
an essay, an argument, suggesting that Donne is going to go on to give multiple
reasons as to why you shouldn’t be saddened at the departure of a person, also
linking with the fact that Donne had the education of a lawyer.
uses various metaphors within the poem to aid his argument of why mourning
should be forbidden, the first of which appears in the first stanza. The poem
opens with reference to the deaths of ‘virtuous men’ and how they ‘pass mildly
away’, suggesting that Donne thinks the parting of him and his wife should be
much line the deaths of these old men, gentle and calm, so much so you can’t
even tell when they’ve stopped breathing.
support of this, in the second stanza, Donne uses the lexis ‘melt’ which has
connotations of icicles, creating images of melting snow and things gradually
fading away, reinforcing how Donne wants the separation of him and his wife to
be gentle and a natural process.
can already get a feel for the tone of the poem from with first stanza. The
long vowel sounds such as the U in ‘virtuous’, the A in ‘away’ and the O in
‘souls’ and ‘go’ make the lines seem longer and breathy, creating a breathless,
gasping feeling for the reader, suggesting that the speaker is some what
emotional, despite his entire argument, at the thought of leaving his wife. Yet
also showing how passionate he is about his argument. Thus creating a somber,
subdued tone for the beginning of the poem.
example of a metaphor used by Donne to strengthen his argument can be found in
the third stanza, comparing the ‘Moving of the earth’ to shallow lovers. The
poet refers to earthquakes to emphasise their violence and how they cause ‘harm
and fear’, causing a commotion and leaving everyone shaken up afterwards, this
linking with the idea that some couples can’t stand to be apart from each other
because their love is purely physical. Donne is suggesting here that his and
his wife’s love goes much deeper than that, and that they connect on a
spiritual level too.
then goes on to compare his and his wife’s love to the ‘trepidation of the
spheres’, unnoticed subtle movements of the stars, juxtaposing this to the
ferocity and wildness of an earthquake, highlighting how they do not need to
cause a scene, ‘No tear-floods’, when they separate like the ‘Dull, sublunary
lovers’ would. Also showing how their love can stretch any distance because of
the connection that they have and the intense love that they hold for each
Donne expresses the fact that he and his wife are ‘inter-assured of the mind’,
proposing that he feels that though he must go, their souls are still one and they’ll
still be connected in the mind and that there’s no reasons for her to be upset
when he leaves. The line ‘careless, eyes, lips and hands to miss’ suggests to
some that Donne disregards physical attraction, yet it also shows that he feels
if physical attraction is the only thing a relationship is based on, it’s not
enough. Donne clearly loves his wife; he’s merely stating he’ll miss their
spiritual connection more then their psychical one.
imagery and symbolism heavily throughout the poem to help aid his argument yet
also create meaning and emotion for the reader. For example, gold is mentioned
frequently. The lexis ‘refined’ alludes to the purifying of metals, trying to burn
off any impurities, highlighting how his love is pure and isn’t tainted by
physical affection and attraction. Furthermore, a simile is used, again, with
the reference of gold, ‘like gold to airy thinness beat’. The poet is implying
here that their relationship is much like the properties of gold, it’s strong,
can be hammered, ‘beat’ and stretched a long way, where other metals, or
relationships, would break under these circumstances.
Donne uses a
paradox to illustrate meaning to the readers. ‘Our two souls therefore, which
are one’. The use of ‘two’ and ‘one’ in the same line will confuse readers,
emphasising the complicated, mysterious force of love and the effects that it
metaphor used is that of a compass, ‘As stiff twin compasses are two’. Donne is
suggesting that he and his wife are like a compass when drawing a circle, no
matter how far they go, they will always end up back together at the same point
again, thus reassuring his wife that their goodbye is not forever. Moreover,
Donne expresses how faithful his wife has been through the compass metaphor,
‘Thy firmness makes my circle just’, implying that she’s always remained loyal
and supportive of her husband, just as the leg of a compass.
To conclude, Donne has
written a poem expressing why his wife shouldn’t mourn him after he’s left and
used various metaphors to show how their love is strong and they will be
reunited again, his creative and wildly metaphors are typical of Donne’s style
and are what makes his work so unique.