A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

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"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne How sincere is this poem?  Explain.

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Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" (1611) was written when Donne left for an extended trip to Europe (1611-1612) with Sir Robert Drury, Donne's most important and influential patron.  As to its sincerity, we assume from its tone and content that Donne wrote the poem to convince his wife, Anne (who produced twelve children during their marriage), that their love is centered in the spiritual rather than the physical world--a physical separation, then, matters very little.  Given the care with which Donne makes his argument--using some of the most well-known metaphorical language in English literature--it would be difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the poem's sincere purpose of assuring Donne's wife that their love cannot be affected by physical separation.

As many scholars of Donne have noted, the poem is essentially an argument, which uses highly unusual, sometimes startling metaphors and similes, a very typical technique for poets who are part of what is known as the metaphysical school.  A hallmark of metaphysical poetry is the use of imagery that seems at first to be completely incongruous--Samuel Johnson said, "yoked violently together"--but the unusual comparisons work to startle the reader into understanding.  In addition to being a fine poet, Donne is one of the most important and influential preachers of his time, and his preaching voice comes through loudly in this poem.

Because the poem actually frames Donne's central argument, every stanza centers on an image that elevates his love for his wife, and hers for him, to a place that is both private and joyful.  In the second stanza, for example, Donne argues that

So let us melt, and make no noise,                                       5
    No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ; 
'Twere profanation of our joys  
    To tell the laity our love.

In other words, their love is so special that it cannot and should not be shared with just anyone ("the laity"), and so, as they part, their goodbyes must be calm and undemonstrative so...

(The entire section contains 653 words.)

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