A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ presents a unique approach of a lover to the event of his separation from his beloved. This poem by John Donne has been addressed to his wife Anne More. To pacify her before leaving for a journey, he tells her that their love is unlike that of usual lovers. He tries to convince her that separation would not affect their love for one another even a bit.
At the beginning of the poem, he presents his desire that he and his beloved should get separated very gently without marking the occasion with tears or sighs. He says that the common people could not even understand the quality of their love. So, showing their feeling to the people would be like disrespecting the feelings.
He compares an earthquake to the regular movement of the heavenly bodies to show the contrast between feelings of the usual lovers to their own. He states that an earthquake causes lots of harm and fear. The destruction it caused causes harm and the possibility that it could have caused even more destruction causes fear. Similarly, the physical love in which generally lovers get involved causes lots of feelings which torture the lovers. On the other hand, the movement of heavenly bodies takes place at much greater scale but causes no harm or fear. In the same manner, the platonic love he and his beloved experience is innocent. Their feelings provide only relief.
He says that the earthly lovers cannot manage their relationship if one of them is absent. Their love is based on senses. For them, separation means break in love since their love is based on physical closeness.
However, the poet and his beloved’s love is so refined that they themselves could not understand exactly all of its features. However, their minds are linked to one another and the physical closeness does not matter in their case.
So, although the poet has to leave, their souls will not experience even a bit of separation. Gold could be beaten to great thinness without getting broken. Their love is as pure as gold and would increase due to the pressure of separation applied on it.
He further says that even if their hearts be considered separate entities, they are in relation to one another as are two legs of a compass. The beloved is like the fixed foot of the compass and the lover like the one that has to move away to execute a business. He says that the fixed foot seems to be stationary but when the other foot moves away, the fixed foot leans towards it. Similarly, when the lover goes away for some business, the beloved leans towards him, i.e. always thinks about him. When the other foot comes to its original position, the one lying at the centre grows erect. In the same way, when the lover comes back, the beloved swells in happiness and satisfaction.
He requests his beloved to behave like the firm foot of the compass. He clarifies that the stability of the firm foot is mandatory for the circle to be perfect. Similarly, the determination of the beloved and her support are mandatory for the lover’s success in whatever business he undertakes.
The sense of superiority that Donne attaches to his and his beloved’s love is something very usual for his poems. His love poems generally suggest that their love is platonic which is much finer than the physical love in which lovers generally are involved. According to him, the common people are not deserving enough even to know about his feelings for his beloved or his beloved’s for him.
The poem is all about the lover’s efforts to appease her beloved since it is mandatory for him to go away for some time. On the one hand, he assigns a duty to his beloved of not mourning on their separation. He states that their love is platonic and common people do not deserve to witness their feelings for one another. On the other hand, he tries to convince her that their separation would further enhance their love since their love is not dependent on their physical closeness. Their minds are always connected to one another even when they are distant.
The comparison of lovers to the two feet of compass is one of the most typical examples of Discordia Concors. It shows very clearly how the metaphysical poets employed their wit in justifying their comparisons even when the two things they compared had no apparent connection, whatsoever.
The poem is also an obvious example of the fact that the metaphysical poets preferred rationality over emotions. Even while trying to persuade his beloved to not feel sad about their separation, the poet uses reason rather than expression of his feelings. He gives reasons for which she should not cry, worry or feel desperate. He uses logic to reassure his beloved about the depth and greatness of their love. So, when compared to the conventional love poems, the subject matter is the only factor on the basis of which this poem qualifies to be a love poem.
The poem has also been one of the major targets of the critics opposing the excessive use of learning in case of the Metaphysical poets.
The rhyme scheme in the poem is ABAB.
The poem was written in 1611 or 1612. Donne wrote the poem addressing his wife Anne More while he was leaving for a journey to Continental Europe. So, the poem has autobiographical elements as well like many of Donne’s love poems.
It was first published in 1633 collection ‘Songs and Sonnets’.
The collection was published two years after Donne’s death.