illustration of a person standing at the center of a circle and another person at the perimeter walking around, the two of them connected by a compass

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

by John Donne

Start Free Trial

Why is the speaker trying to console his wife in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are two possible interpretations for why the speaker is trying to console his wife in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." As the title suggests, the speaker is trying to stop his wife from mourning something. It seems that the speaker is either preparing her for his death or for his leaving.

The first stanza of the poem seems to refer to death when the speaker says, "As virtuous men pass mildly away" (line 1). He says he wants them to act according to that scenario, which is calm and subdued. He wants he and his wife to "melt, and make no noise" (line 5) as they part. He tells his wife not to cry or to be upset. He explains over the course of the poem that she should not mourn because they will always be connected to each other. In part of a famous conceit, or extended metaphor, Donne writes,

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.
Like the compasses, the speaker and his beloved are always joined. One cannot move without the other moving, too. Since this connection exists, they can never really be separated, so there is no reason to mourn.
As the conceit continues into the next stanza, the speaker explains,
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
When the speaker says the one part will "in the center sit" while "the other far doth roam," he suggests that the speaker may simply be leaving, going away for a while, only to return later ("come home"). As this is part of the metaphor, however, Donne could still be referring to his death, since as a Christian, he believed in salvation and everlasting life. It is possible that the reunion he foresees is in heaven.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team