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Posted on June 16th, 2012, by

Before explicating and analyzing the poem A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, written by John Donne (1572-1631) I would like to mention some biographical facts from the author’s life. To begin with I should say that John Donne was born in Bread Street in London between January 4 and June 1572 in a prominent rich Roman-Catholic family. John was the third child in a family. Of course I can’t help saying that his grandfather was an English writer of interludes, that’s why John Donne could inherit some talents and predisposition. John Donne grew up sensing the Anglican discrimination in England. Besides, he converted to Anglicanism during 1590. Studding in London he received the degree of a lawyer in 1596. John met his future wife Ann More, when he was 29, while she was a young girl, only 16 years old. They married secretly, but Ann’s father learnt about it and endeavored to put John to the prison. So Donne’s career was destroyed. During the next years he could not earn his family living and put the ends meet. I have mentioned the last facts, because it is really necessary to underline the relationship between John and his wife. Their love had no borders and limits, they shared all their joys and sorrows, overcame a lot difficulties together; all in all, they firstly respected each other.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

    This poem was written in 1611 by John Donne, when he was going to travel to France with some friends. The Valediction was devoted to his loved wife. They had already been married for 10 years by the time when the poem was written. Unfortunately the poem saw the world only in 1633, I mean, not during the poet’s lifetime, two years after his death.

The poem symbolized the parting of the author from Ann More, like two pieces of one whole. The two lovers are like a universe, are like two planets located near each other. The main thing shown in it is a comparison between death and a beautiful feeling of love.

The structure of a poem

    A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning was constructed in iambic tetrameter line, in nine four-line stanzas, called quadrains, with ABAB rhyme scheme. The author achieved his aim by using different figurative means: metaphors, similes, attributes to render the main idea and to make the picture full, colored and vital. The language of a Valediction is neutral and it goes without saying that it is rather easy to read the poem. But at the same time, as it is rich in figurative language, the poem can be misinterpreted. Besides, there are some metaphysical conceits in a poem, because John Donne was the chief of the Metaphysicals in the Jacobean era, just after Shakespeare. The main aim of Metaphysical Poetry is analyzing, but not expressing of the feelings and of course using of some scientific data. The title of the poem is a Valediction. But what is it? Valedictions are read at the funerals and probably the author used these words to depict that his existence is unbelievable without his beloved and it means death to him.

Reading the first four lines we should select the first metaphysical conceit:

AS virtuous men pass mildly away,

And whisper to their souls to go,

Whilst some of their sad friends do say,

Now his breath goes, and some say, No.

The word as’ at a very beginning means while’ and opens to us the simile, that compares the separation of the true lovers to the parting of virtuous men from life. So we see a virtuous man lying on his deathbed passing mildly away.

The second stanza (line 5,6) depicts a real reaction of a person when he or she is left without a beloved:

So let us melt, and make no noise,

No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move

But the author wants his wife not to be sad or so to say in black moods, because her words and tears won’t make him come back and besides he did not want his wife mourning his absence. He hopes that she will let him have a journey and that she will believe in him and his feelings.

Then John Donne tells about earthquakes and their huge harm, but he wants to underline that all these disasters won’t destroy their love and it will become stronger and deeper:

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

He also compares their feeling to the movement of planets.          It is a metaphor: the speaker compares the trepidation of the spheres with the true lovers.

John Donne also describes the love to his wife as a pure feeling that is based not on the sexual inclination, but on spiritual deep devotion and affection:

But we by a love so much refined,

That ourselves know not what it is,

Inter-assurèd of the mind,

Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss

That is why you do not need to see the eyes, to kiss the lips. You just feel this person and his heart; and that is the main.

In the 6-th and 7-th stanzas the poet uses the second simile, comparing the parting of true lovers to the expansion of gold when it is beaten into a thin leaf. He also draws the conclusion that their souls and mind are connected in one and they can not be separated by distances. John Donne makes a compass a metaphor:


Our two souls therefore, which are one,

Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two;

Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show

To move, but doth, if th’ other do

Firstly, the compass is a Renaissance symbol of eternal perfection. The poet compares Ann with a fixed foot of a compass, as she stays at home waiting for her dear husband, and he is the other foot that goes around the centre. So they join and complete each other. Besides the compass is a circle and that is why if a man travels, he will always come back to his wife, because during the whole trip she will stay in his hot heart and soul.


    A Valediction is a typical touching love poem that makes us feel what the author felt at that moment. The choice of words and situations characterize the poet and his deep feelings to his wife. John Donne did not try to make his love and lyric poems full of music sounds. That is why he even called his poetry rough, brutal and wild. But al in all his poems possess the inner power and vitality, because the author was always disturbed by difficult feelings, torments and contradiction of love, suffering, death and philosophical sense and profundity of emotions. John Donne’s poetry is based mainly not on logical images, but on change of various tempers, moods, sufferings and thoughts.

After reading a wonderful poem A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning we can believe that love is a beautiful feeling that will continue under any circumstances, even after death. There is a very good and exact saying that marriages are committed in the heaven and I can’t help agreeing with this statement. Because a true deep love is like a miracle and only a brilliant poet can describe it and suppose that two lovers have a single soul and a lot of things that make them a perfect union for years. And all the troubles, disappointments and a lot of trials will harden the relations and make them elevated.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning is one of such poems that can be applied to any couple of any century, who are separated by some circumstances. As Edmon Arokur said: To leave is to die a little.

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