Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The sexual imagery that concludes the poem does not contradict the pervasive spirituality of the piece, but complements it. John Donne has been called the poet of mutual love, and though he may play diverse roles—the cynical lover of “The Indifferent,” the Platonic lover in “The Relic”—he is also the advocate of physical and spiritual love united. “Dull, sublunary lovers” rely totally on the physical, so their love cannot survive absence. Donne and his beloved may “care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss,” but they do care. The need for both types of love is evident in the metaphor of the twin compasses. The circular motion of the compasses, like the circular orbits of the planets in Aristotelian physics, symbolizes heavenly love, since all movement above the moon takes this shape. Sublunary motion is linear, and that is the figure the two points of the compass describe when they move together in a plane. Together, the divine circle and animal line create the human spiral. Donne rejects the duality of body and soul: Love for him is not one or the other, but both—a single, indivisible entity.
Hence, Donne rejects the Petrarchan idealization of the beloved as untouchable and godlike. He employs the imagery of Petrarch in the second stanza when he speaks of “tear-floods” and “sigh-tempests,” but in forbidding such forms of mourning the poem distances itself from the philosophy that relies on such metaphors. Donne’s love is human, as is his beloved. The opening lines may imply that she is body and he soul,...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!