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A Literary Analysis of a Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

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A Literary Analysis of a Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne essay

The Perfect Love

On any given day at the airport, couples in love can be seen saying goodbye to one another. Everyday, thousands of people are forced to say goodbye to a loved one for a period of time for one reason or another. People react to this period of separation in a number of ways. Some cry, some smile, and some do nothing. In John Donnes poem, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”, the concept of love and separation is addressed. In this poem, Donne is able to use metaphors in order to help show how a perfect love says goodbye.

Surprisingly, this poem, which is a love poem, opens with the idea of the death of virtuous men who “pass mildly away”. Virtuous men quietly make the transition from this world to the next. Because their friends left on earth know that the deceased lived a virtuous life, there is some sadness, but the friends know that the dead are now in a better place. The death, although sad, was also very peaceful. Donne equates this scene with the farewell of lovers. He believes that like death, parting is a sorrowful time, but is should be peaceful. There should not be a big emotional scene; rather, there should be a calm exchange of emotion.

This idea of a peaceful goodbye is further seen in the second stanza in another metaphor. In this stanza, Donne transitions from talking about death to a man talking to his loved one. The man is telling his loved one that their parting must “make no noise,/ No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move”. Donne uses the metaphor of storms to describe the flood of emotions that usually bring crying and tears from two lovers. This metaphor is used to say what a goodbye should not be like. Reiterating the fact that it should be peaceful and calm, not like a storm.

In the third stanza, another metaphor is seen that helps show how to say goodbye. It involves the movement of the earth and celestial bodies. The first two lines of the stanza discuss how man fears earthquakes. Earthquakes cause the whole earth to shake. This is a strange phenomenon, which does not occur that often and, as a result, bring fear to mankind. This represents the type of goodbye that is very emotional and noticeable, the opposite of what Donne wants. Instead, good-byes should be like the movement of planets. For example, “the trepidation of the spheres,/ Though greater far, is innocent.” These two lines state that the movement of celestial bodies is far greater than the trembling of the earth. However, while this is a much greater motion. It remains unnoticed and innocent. Through this metaphor, Donne is saying that the greater love does not have to mean that there should be a big emotional scene. Instead, the goodbye in a relationship of true love should be quiet and not too noticeable.

The next metaphor found compares the couple in loves love and separation to that of gold. According to the poem, their love has been refined into something that is not definable. Their love is not based only on the physical, but the spiritual as well.. They can be separated and their love can continue to remain strong. The metaphor of the gold demonstrates this fact as well. By separating for the time being, their love is not experiencing a “breach, but an expansion,/ like gold to airy thinness beat.” Their love is malleable, just like gold. No matter how many times gold is hit, it gets longer and thinner, but does not break. This is what true love should be like. Separation should not cause the love to cease, but should remain intact.

In the seventh stanza, another important metaphor about separation is introduced, comparing true love to a compass. A compass is used to draw circles and has two endpoints, connected at a peak in the center. One point then encircles the other, forming a circle. In this poem, Donne refers to the loved one being left behind as “the fixed foot,[which] makes no show/ To move, but doth, if thother do.” The other point “leans, and hearkens after” the center point. The center point helps keep the other to the true shape of a circle. Their love is like this compass, with the lady being left behind as the center. The man is leaving, but his love revolves around and leans upon his love. Although they are separated on the physical level, they are still connected spiritually by the bridge of love, which is the piece in the center of the compass connecting the two points. Unlike the other metaphors, the compass is personified in this poem. It is given human characteristics like roam, leans, and hearkens. This allows for characteristics of the compass to relate to human characteristics and human love. By using personification, Donne is able to help his reader relate to this inanimate object in this metaphor.

As a result of the compass, the last metaphor referring to the separation of lovers is found. The compass forms a perfect circle, which is like the lovers love: perfect. The shape of a circle is viewed as a perfect shape by many cultures. Coincidentally, the compass, representing the lovers, forms a perfect circle, showing the perfect love, which the lovers form. The idea of a circle is also symbolic of the lovers return to each other. The man is leaving, but, like the points on a circle, he will return to where he started, where his love remains. A circle always starts and ends at the same point.

Donnes use of metaphors in his poetry greatly enhances the meaning and allows for greater understanding of his poetry. His use of metaphors in this poem is important in the overall meaning of the poem and allows the reader to visualize this intangible concept of love and good-byes. Metaphors are an effective aid for helping people understand what he is trying to say. Without them, his poetry would suffer and become stale and boring. However, by using metaphors, his poetry remains interesting and stimulating.

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A Literary Analysis of a Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne. (2019, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
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