A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Summary and Analysis – John Donne

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

Donne is famous for writing metaphysical poetry. Many of us know famous example of compass, which is from “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”. If Donne has gained fame in the world of metaphysical poetry then this poem is the main reason behind it. Donne summarizes the concept of spiritual love in this poem. He does not only prove that spiritual love is better but also differentiates it from lust. Donne juxtaposes worldly love to the spiritual love and then through arguments demonstrates that there is no match of spiritual love in this world. He also elaborates experiences of his life as some biographical elements are also there in the poem. He convinces his readers to distinguish spiritual love from lust and develop passions of love. Moreover, this poem is evident that Donne is a man of letters as far as his knowledge to metaphysical poetry is concerned.

Click here to read text of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning – Title:

Autobiographically, Donne was leaving for France. He was passionately in love with his wife Anne Moore; therefore, when he said final good-bye to his wife, tears came in her eyes. Donne has quoted this incident in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”. Valediction means farewell. At the time of departure, many people express their love through tears. Anne Moore was also doing the same but Donne asked her not to do so. He then praises the beauty of their relationship which is not based on lust but love; that too spiritual. Due to witty subject, and examples of the poem, Grierson regards “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” “the tenderest of Donne’s love poems.”

Stanzas I, II & III of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”:

Donne starts the poem while talking about pious people. When “virtuous men passe”, they leave the world gently without any mourning and crying; their souls very politely leave their bodies and depart to the next world. Donne in indirect words wants to say that virtuous people has no fear of death; they face it and accept it openheartedly. As compared to them, other people fear from death and want to stay more; some of them even want to live in this world forever. Donne then draws readers’ attention towards his own situation. He also wants to go away but he does not want any noise nor does he want to disclose his situation. Although, farewell is painful yet crying and shedding tears are against the law of pure love; therefore, he advises his lover not to shed tears on his departure.

Donne’ scientific approach and his wit are the key factors of his poetry. In third stanza of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”, he talks about the laws of universe; unexpected movement of earth is harmful for the people. It always creates fear and even when it does not damage anything. On the other hand, if earth rotates smoothly then it does not scare the people, as they do not know the hidden laws.

Stanzas IV & V of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”:

Donne talks about common love; “Dull sublunary lovers love”. He hates the lowly love of humans. According to him, it is full of lust. Apparently, people are in love with each other but this is not what he calls love; Donne calls it lust as it is only based on adultery. There is a comparison between two love forms in fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem. In fourth stanza, the poet speaks about worldly love but in fifth stanza, he praises the beauty of spiritual love, as his love is also spiritual. Donne says that for lowly worldly people, separation is a difficult task but for spiritual-lovers, it is not. They remain connected even when they go away from each other. Thus, it is impossible to separate two lovers.

Donne has never appreciated physical beauty of women. When he talks about love, he always prefers spiritual love. Worldly love is just the appreciation of hairs, cheeks, lips and height of a woman. Spiritual love, on the other hand, is difficult to understand. This is why the poet says: “That ourselves know not what it is”. However, he believes that his love is extraordinary; it is pure and holy and the same is spiritual. In absence of his beloved, passion of love will not decrease; rather it will increases day-by-day. Poet’s passions are far away from sexuality. Physical separation, thus, does not matter in his love because it is not physical. Moreover, the poet is hopeful to meet again. It is, therefore, he suggests his beloved not to mourn on his valediction.

Stanzas VI & VII of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”:

The poet through a simile shows the importance of his love to his beloved as well as to the readers. He, in this poem, again talks about unity; both the lovers when deeply fall in love become one instead of two; dividing them is a fruitless task. The poet says that his departure is like gold; when gold is beaten, it turns “ayery thinnesse”; therefore, he carries more space. Gold actually is a symbol of love. When the poet will leave his beloved, his presence could be felt anywhere. Thereby, instead of going away, he will come closer to his beloved. In seventh stanza, the poet adds an incredible example of a compass. He says that he and his beloved are two feet of a compass, who temporarily go away from each other but they are unable to be divided.

Stanzas VIII & IX of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”:

These stanzas are continuation of seventh stanza. Donne has presented a relationship between two lovers very beautifully. He, through examples and arguments, very easily convinces his readers. Numbers of critics have appreciated the conceit of a compass, through which John Donne has simplified the emotions of love. When he says something; readers believe in it. Donne has rightly said that the relation between two spiritual lovers is similar to a compass. No matter how far they go, ultimately, they have to return. Donne is going somewhere in France but definitely, he will return and that moment will be the happiest moment for his beloved. They started their love from a point and like a compass, they would return to the same place.

“Thy firmness makes my circle just,

And makes me end, where I begunne.”

John Donne

To conclude, Donne’s whole poetry is metaphysical. This kind of poetry focuses on conceits. In this poem, variety of conceits is available. Apart from gold and virtuous men, compass is worth mentioning. Donne has also used the technique of hyperbole in this poem. He is a scholar; therefore, lines of the poem are argumentative in nature. In fact, whole poem is based on arguments. At last but not the least, this poem proves that John Donne is best metaphysical poet in the history of English Literature.