A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Summary
by John Donne

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning book cover
Start Your Free Trial

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Summary

"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" is a poem by John Donne in which the speaker directly addresses his lover to say farewell and to encourage her not to mourn his absence.

  • In the first stanza, the speaker 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 most romantic farewells.

  • He tells his love that the two of them must remain steadfast and promises to return to her soon.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Download A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Study Guide

Subscribe Now

“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 moon.

Typically, Donne pushes his argument to more complex levels of understanding and turns next to the notion of Platonic love, which he also compares with his own. The basic idea of Platonic love is the idea that, in another world, the Real World, there exist perfect ideals or archetypes for all particular things that exist in this, the actual world. Thus, all examples of love in human experience must be compared to the ideal of love in the Real World in order to determine their validity. In this framework, Donne argues that his love is the Platonic archetype. Unlike sublunary, inferior love, which is activated by the senses, Donne’s love is nourished by the soul. Because of the superior love Donne and his lady enjoy, they should not behave as ordinary lovers and weep and sigh at parting.

Bringing to bear yet another argument against acting like inferior...

(The entire section is 646 words.)