A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning John Donne
1. John Donne is the founder of metaphysical poetry in English. John Dryden, the great English poet and critic used the term “metaphysical” with reference to Donne’s lyrics and satires. In 1779 Dr.Johnson extended the term “metaphysical” to a school of poetry called “metaphysical poetry”. The metaphysical poets were all men of learning and in their works, their vast learning is twisted in such a way that the reader finds it difficult to follow what the poet really intends to say. The metaphysical poetry abounds in metaphysical elements such as strange images, conceits, mockery of common sentiments, logical arguments and hyperboles. Metaphysical poetry can be divided into two groups – amorous and religious verse. Donne wrote both. But the metaphysical element is very clear in his love poems such as “ Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, “The Sun Rising, and “Air and Angels” . Great poetry is always metaphysical born of men’s passionate thinking about life, love and death”
2. “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” is a love poem addressed by the poet to his lady love/wife when he is forced to part from her to go on a journey to
France. It opens with the strange
image of a holy man on his death bead and he leaves the world silently and
peacefully and he is unafraid, and even his friends don’t know of his death and
such was the glory of his death. Similarly the lovers should part like the
peaceful death of the virtuous man. The separation will be painful but it is
not the end, because there is a happy reunion, just as the holy man is reunited
in heaven with God. The lovers should not show their pain and sorrow because
their love for each other is sacred and holy. Their relationship is not only
physical but also spiritual. The beauty
of this metaphysical poem is that Donne uses many strange comparisons such as
the death of the holy man, the earthquake and trepidation of the spheres,
hammering of pure gold and a pair of compasses in order to show the inseparable
but pure spiritual love of the narrator and his wife.
3. The poet tells his lady love that they are the high priests of divine love and they should not reveal the joy of their holy love to the laity ( ordinary lovers) by expressing their sorrow and pain. It is a sin against their spiritual love. The term ‘profanation” means a sin against God. This metaphor adds to the beauty of the stanza. The poet means their love is holy and divine.
4. The second stanza has three metaphors: ‘tear floods’, sigh-tempests’ and ‘profanation’ The poet laughs at the expression of sorrow by ordinary lovers. Their love is not joy but full of sorrow and soon they are tired of their physical love and they cannot love in their absence.
5. In the third and fourth stanzas, the narrator calls the ordinary lovers “dull sublunary lovers’ and they are compared to earthquake and the spiritual lovers (the poet and his lady love) to ‘trepidation of the spheres’, which is greater but harmless.
6. The last three stanzas go together. Here the poet compares their love to the hammering of pure gold. It does not break but goes on expanding and finally it becomes invisible. Such is the love of the two lovers. When they are separated, they are still one in the spirit and no power on the earth can destroy their love. Again their love is compared to a pair of compasses. It shows that they are physically two human beings – a male and a female. But they are inseparably united at the centre. She is the fixed foot sitting at home, when the husband goes away and she also moves round just like him always pricking her ears to his footsteps and only thinking of his arrival and this is why he comes back home making the circle perfect. The circle means the presence of God in their love. The phrase “grows erect” shows the joy and pride of the couple when they are re-united. The two compasses (lovers) move in harmony, without clashing or overlapping. This is the spiritual unity and love of the narrator and his lady love.
Questions and answers
1. “So let us melt……..sigh-tempests move” What is special about the figure of speech?
The figure of speech used by the poet is ‘hyperbole’ which is the basic quality of metaphysical poetry. Besides hyperbole, shocking images, comparisons and metaphors and conceits are used by the poet. The narrator says that the lovers are quite different from ordinary (dull sublunary) lovers. The narrator and his lady love are the high priests of spiritual love. It means that true lovers are like the priests of the church while ordinary lovers are the laity of the church. Therefore their separation is so silent and peaceful like the melting of snow. Ordinary lovers express their love through their cries, sobbing and violent sorrow. The poet laughs at these violent emotions of sorrow by using two metaphors such as ‘tear-floods’ and ‘sigh-tempests.’
2. Twere profanation……laity our love” Bring out the beauty of the metaphor
Answer: the third paragraph of the essay.
3. “Dull sublunary lovers’ love”. Comment on the poetic devices used in this line
The poet uses the alliteration “I” which adds to the beauty of the poem. The assonance of short ‘u’ sounds shows the foolishness of the ordinary (earthly) lovers because they cannot love in the absence of each other and also they don’t get real pleasure and it is short lived as saturation comes soon. Therefore there is pun on the word ‘absence’.
4. “Our two souls………thinness beat”. Explain the poetic devices used in these lines.
The term gold is used as a simile in the stanza which adds to the marvelous beauty of the poem. Pure gold, when is hammered does not break, on the other hand it goes on expanding to invisibility. Similarly when the lovers are separated, their love gets deeper and deeper without any show of violent sorrow or pain and no power on the earth can destroy their spiritual love. This stanza is the best example for the figure of speech ‘hyperbole” which is a metaphysical element. Dr.Samuel Johnson once remarked that in the brilliant use of this conceit, we find the discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.