Spiritual Connection in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning - Essay

John Donne

Spiritual Connection in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," a poem written upon the occasion of Donne parting from his wife for an extended period, is a shining example of the mature, spiritual relationship that Donne had with his wife. Certainly, sexual love was often a theme in Donne's poetry and Donne had had a reputation as being something of a rake before falling in love with his wife, Ann More. In reading this selection it seems that it was because of his love relationship with Ann, that Donne experienced a love that knew no bounds; physical separation could not quell it. While certain scholars believe that Donne's poems do not actually document his personal experience, this work, which was written for a genuine occasion and was never published in his lifetime, might be interpreted as a personal testimony to not only Donne's sadness over his departure but to the depth of his feelings for and faith in his wife.

In the poem's opening lines, Donne likens his faith in his and his wife's connection to that of virtuous mens' confidence in their relationship to God. While others may fear death, the truly pious will journey to the hereafter with quiet resignation and even a bit of optimism. Likening religious devotion and faith to love, especially romantic or sexual love, is a theme that is often seen in other works of the era, particularly in Gianlorenzo Bernini's marble sculpture Ecstasy of St. Theresa, in which St. Theresa is overwhelmed with ecstasy because of her devotion to her lord. Religious faith, then, is more often than not unshakable, and this conceit on Donne's part in comparing the sanctity of his marriage to deep-rooted, religious faith exalts his and Ann's bond to something even beyond the romantic or the sexual; it is exemplary of the true, spiritual bond that existed between them.

Donne asserts that shedding tears over their parting would profane the sanctity of their love. Whereas Donne's poetic predecessors often wrote of the physicality of a lover or the urgency with which one desires to see one's lover (i.e., William Shakespeare's famous line from Romeo and Juliet: "Parting is such sweet sorrow"), Donne insists that public displays would be vulgar and inappropriate in light of the unique tie he and Ann share. Further, he insists the such actions would "tell the laity our love," thus making public their sorrows to the laypeople would be inconsistent with the private nature of their mature association and would fly in the face of its sacred nature.

As Donne continues on, he speaks further of the calm that should surround his taking leave of his beloved, insisting that it should be as unappar-ent as the planets revolving in the skies. This movement of the planets, he points out, is certainly more powerful than something ordinary, such as an earthquake, an image that he likens to an obvious outpouring of emotion. In associating his and his wife's love to a heavenly yet silent act, Donne is once more elevating their relationship to a supraearthly status. The use of such a metaphor casts the relationship in a light that makes it appear that few could truly grasp the gravity of Donne and Ann's entire relationship, as they would not be fully aware of all its machinations. This air of privacy is not dissimilar to the private nature of deep religious devotion. Faith and some of its more important activities, such as confession and prayer, are highly intimate acts; faith itself is also an internal process, and the truly pious are not always obvious about...

(The entire section is 1432 words.)