WzDD's HSC Info: 2Unit Related English: John Donne
A Valediction: forbidding mourning
As virtous men passe mildly'away,
And whisper to their soules, to goe,
Whilst some of their sad friends doe say,
The breath goes now, and some say, no:
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No teare-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,
'Twere prophanation of our joyes
To tell the layetie our love.
Moving of th'earth brings harmes and feares,
Men reckon what it did and meant,
But trepidation of the spheares,
Though greater farre, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers love
(Whose soule is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we by a'love, so much refin'd
That we ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care lesse, eyes, lips, and hnds to misse.
Our two soules therefore, which are one,
Though I must goe, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiffe twin compasses are two,
Thy soule the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the'other doe.
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth rome,
It leanes, and hearkens after it,
And growes erect, as it comes home.
Such wilt thou be to mee, who must
Like th'other foor, obliquely runne;
Thy firmnes makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begunne.
Valediction - a farewell, but a stronger meaning than that: Valedictions for
people are read at funerals, etc, and ties in with the first stanza.
Prophanation - sacreligious
Layetie - common people. Also has religious connotations; see below.
Trepidation - movement. Also implies cautious, silent movement. Also implies an
irregularity of movement.
Elemented - instigated, started, constructed. Also ties in with the other "element"
imagery in the poem; see below.
This is a "classic" Donne poem. In it, he shows off his vast knowledge of everything from alchemy
to astronomy, and puts his most famous technique, the conceit, to great use. There is a rumor that
this poem was written by Donne to his wife, before he went away on a long holiday with his friends,
leaving her at home. It is impossible to prove, and doesn't really matter. I will, however,
refer to the two characters in the poem as Donne and his wife in these comments.
Donne's basic argument was that most people's relationships are built on purely sensual things -
if they are not together at all times, the relationship breaks down. Donne asserts that the love
between him and his wife is different - it is not a purely sensual relationship, but something
deeper, a "love of the mind" rather than a "love of the body". This love, he says, can endure even
though sometimes the lovers cannot be close to each other at all times.
Donne uses some very evocative imagery in this poem. First of all, the parting of two lovers like
Donne and his wife is likened to the death of a virtuous man. As a virtuous man dies, he knows that
he has reconciled himself to God and will therefore be accepted into heaven. Thus he dies in peace
and calm, and the people surrounding him at his deathbead are sad, but not anguished. In the same
way, when two virtuous lovers part, there is no pain, because they know that each will be true to
the other, even when they are apart. The people surrounding the dying man are quiet partly so as
not to disturb him - in the same way, Donne says that too much outward show of emotion on the part
of one lover would just disturb the other.
Donne is then very disparaging of the love of the rest of the population. The wails and screams and
tears that "ordinary" lovers display when they must part is shown to be simply an act, with no
real emotion in it.
The lovers are then likened to planetary bodies. In such a way, Donne places them above the "mortal
earth". Unlike natural disasters, which are unpredictable and chaotic, the movement of the planets
is peaceful and calm, even though the planets move much further.
Donne's most famous conceit is then introduced. The two lovers are likened to the two points of a
compass. At first this seems ridiculous, but Donne shows how it makes sense. The idea of the wife
staying and minding the house while the husband goes away is old-fashioned now, but we can still
comprehend it. There is a lot more explanation of the "compass" conceit below.
- Ballad - like four-line stanzas help to create the gently, slowly moving "feel" of the poem. The
rhyme scheme is consistent and predictable all the way through, as well. The "mood" of this poem
is in direct contrast to that of "The Apparition"
, which is very much "raw emotion". Here there is emotion, but it is confined to the
"layetie"-the ordinary lovers who cannot stand parting.
- Conceits used:
- Donne and wife > celestial bodies > the points of a compass.
- The wedding ring > the path of a planet > the alchemical symbol for gold > the path traced
out by a compass
- The emotions of the common people > earthquakes and tempests
Imagery / References to Donne's learning
- The circle
- Marriage ring
- Path of the planets (Trepidation of the spheres)
- Alchemical symbol for gold was a circle with a point in the centre
- Path described by a compass.
- Very broad range of knowledge displayed:
- Planetary trepidation
- Earthquakes, the love of "sublunary lovers"
- Properties of gold - Gold is very malleable which means it can be
beaten to ayery thinnesse. The symbolism of gold is very important, as it is
also the most precious of all the metals. It is also the least reactive of
all metals, which ties in with Donne's placing of the lovers above the emotional
layetie. In terms of alchemy, gold is also the most noble metal, and the most
difficult to destroy.
- Compass imagery and use.
There is a lot to learn in this poem, so take it slowly...
- The two lovers are their own self-sustaining universe. They have no need of anyone else, as
they are made perfect by their perfect love.
- The compass and the cirle together formed the Renaissance symbol for eternal perfection.
- The first stanza, along with the standard rhyme scheme and structure already mentioned,
contains a lot of sibilants[words beginning with "s"] to create a soft, gentle atmosphere.
EG some of their sad friends,whisper to their soules.
- Prophanation of our joyes... layetie our love - The use of "prophanation" and
"layetie" elevates the lovers to the status of a superior priesthood. Ties in with the idea
of the lovers as planets being above the Earth, and the purity of gold being superior to
- (Whose soule is sense) - the brackets here indicate casuality: other people's
love is really of no importance to Donne.
- A love, so much refin'd. "refin'd" here implies pure love, but it also ties in
with the "pure element" (gold) imagery that Donne uses throughout the poem. Also the
pure "substance", water, is used obliquely: the imagery evoked by so let us melt,
for example, is that of one substance slowly becoming two. This image is evoked again in
Stanza 5 with Inter-assured of the mind.
- Endure not yet / A breach... - there is some confusion over the word "yet", which
seems to imply that eventually there will be a breach. Perhaps this relates to the title and
the first stanza, and implies that the only way the lovers can be parted is by death.
- And growes erect, as it comes home... - not only does this tie in with the
imagery of the compass closing and the two points coming together, but the use of "erect"
also implies the emotional buildup of expectation and joy when the two lovers are together
again. Since he is quick to denounce the obsession of the layetie with "sense",
there is probably no implied sexual connotation.
- Double meanings abound. Take the lines Thy firmnesse makes my circle just,/ And makes me
end, where I begunne.. Here the compass is doing two different things, and both have
significance. "End where I begunne" implies the completition of a circle as drawn by a compass;
only through his wife's stability in the centre, Donne argues, can his circle be drawn
correctly. However "End where I begunne" also implies the closing of the compass - and Donne
coimg home to be with his wife.
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