A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

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What happens in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning?

In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," the speaker directly addresses his love to say farewell. He tells her that their love is so pure and holy that they shouldn't weep the way lesser lovers do when they're separated. Instead, he urges her not to mourn, promising to come back to her soon.

  • In the first stanza, the speaker of the poem describes how virtuous men die: fearlessly. He tells his love that she must be this fearless when he leaves her.

  • He argues that, because their love is so great and so unusually holy, they shouldn't reduce themselves to the weeping and melodrama of romantic farewells. Instead, they should go quietly, rising above the more histrionic laypeople.

  • He tells his love that the two of them must remain steadfast. He compares their souls to the feet of a drafting compass used in geometry, telling her that he shall return to her like the point of a compass returning to where it began.

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” probably written to his wife in 1601 before Donne left on a trip to the Continent, has often been anthologized. It is not only one of Donne’s most popular works but also one of his most representative.

The poem rests, as do most of Donne’s love poems, in the tradition of Renaissance love poetry. There is, for example, the conventional analogy of dying and the parting of lovers; there are references to floods of tears, tempests of sighs, and the spiritualizing quality of love. The poem is not different in kind from other poetry of the period, but it is different in degree. Donne and his lover exceed the traditional model for lovers, for they have so spiritualized their love that to reveal it to common lovers by weeping at parting would profane it much as a mystic discussing his or her ecstatic union with God would cheapen that experience.

Further, the poem reveals Donne’s awareness of and interest in Renaissance topics such as astronomy. For his own purposes in this poem, Donne takes the traditional view and derives his phrase “sublunary lovers” from the older Ptolemaic system, which argued that everything beneath the moon was imperfect and corruptible while all above the moon was perfect and incorruptible. Donne insists that ordinary love, being beneath the moon, is inferior to his love, which has been made perfect beyond the...

(The entire section is 646 words.)