John DonneS A Valediction Forbidding Mourning Essay

John Donne?S ?A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning? Essay, Research Paper

Untainted Love, A Reading of John Donne’s

“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”

In “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” John Donne uses many metaphors and images to convince his lover that even though they are going to be apart, their love will remain untainted. The prefix un- meaning to do the opposite of or is also used to reverse the meaning of a word. The definition of tainted is to be contaminated or to be touched or affected slightly with something bad. In short, untainted means to remain the same without being corrupted by outside influences. The author uses references to spheres and circles, which depict something that ends where it begins, to support his defense. Donne also uses many references to nature, as he does in many of his poems, which has the same reinforcing effect. Some examples of the author doing this would be when he refers to the moving of the earth, and the trepidation of the spheres (9-11). The trepidation of the spheres are believed to be like earthquakes and caused by the planets moving. These movements supposedly occurred without being felt by people on earth. Some of the

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author’s parallels are more far-fetched than others, but all in all his choices in diction provide hard hitting and touching prose.

In the first quatrain Donne provides a parallel between a positive way to view death and a positive way to separate from a lover. He states that, like a dying man, he will be leaving in the physical sense, but will still remain in spirit. In the second quatrain Donne writes, “So let us melt, and make no noise, /No tear-floods, nor-sigh-tempests move,” (5-6). The word “melt” was chosen by the author to represent a gradual change in physical state, going form a solid to a liquid, which symbolizes their being separated (5). By these arguments, the narrator hopes to convince his lover that there is no reason to be sad about his absence; rather she should accept this “earthquake” (9). The idea of an earthquake is used to symbolize a matter of misfortune beyond one’s control. Dwelling on their unchangeable misfortune would only cause unnecessary sorrow.

The narrator goes on to describe their love as “Dull sublunary lovers’ love,” in the forth quatrain (13). Sublunary meaning everything below the moon or earthly, something that is subject to change and is definitely something far from perfect (13). This idea of their love being flawed does not seem to go along with the theme in the poem. The theme of the poem is very reassuring of their love’s security. It is almost as if the narrator is trying to show his lover that he realizes their relationship is perishable. Donne goes on to explain how even thought their love is going to change, in the physical sense, their souls will still be together (14). Their love consists of three parts: body, soul, and mind, not just body. He states that they have “a love so much refined,” no distance could

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change their bond as one (17). In quatrain six, Donne uses words that reflect those used in marriage ceremonies in which two become one, so the “two souls” of the lovers are joined together (21). The narrator explains to his love that there is not “A breach, but an expansion,” in their relationship (23). The author tells his lover not to worry while he is gone, but acknowledges the fact that this “expansion” is stretching their love thin and causing it to become more fragile.

Quatrain seven, in my opinion, sets off the deepest and most beautiful part of the poem. From here on the narrator provides imagery and diction that draws you in. Even though the poem is not meant for you, it causes you to smile as if it were. Donne begins this by comparing their love to a compass and each of them a part of it. He uses the symbolism of a “fixed foot” on a compass to represent her waiting for him and the roaming hand to represent himself while he is away (26-27). Donne’s symbolism in these lines reinforce the idea that even though they are going to be apart, they will still remain as one. Without her as his “fixed foot”, he would never be able to find his way home. Home symbolizing the narrator and his lover together again (27).

The eighth quatrain carries on the idea of their love being a compass, but Donne goes into more detailed imagery. He says,

Yet when the other far doth roam,

It leans and hearkens after it,

And grows erect, as thert comes home.

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These lines show his lover that he acknowledges that she will be stuck in her location yearning for him as he travels, and that she will be happy when he returns to her. It is as if he is showing her that he realizes how hard it is going to be on her. Donne is providing his lover with empathy in these lines. By way of relating to his lover, rather than speaking at her, the poet will in turn receive a better response than if he had not.

Showing someone that you understand their point of view will always result in a more positive response than if you push your view upon them.

The theme of their love being a compass is continued in the last quatrain. This is shown to be true by the narrator in the lines,

Such wilt thou be to me, who must

Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;

Thy firmness makes my circle just;

And makes me end where I begun, (30-36).

By this phrasing the author is stating that his thoughts will revolve around her and their love while he is away. He is also saying that without her their “compass” would not function and be able to complete a full circle bringing him back to her. Basically, the meaning of this is that she completes him, and the two of them together create a whole.

John Donne’s poetic masterpiece, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” is a very touching and romantic poem. His words not only touch the intended recipient, his lover, but also all of the poem’s readers. Through the use of metaphors and detailed imagery, Donne paints a beautiful picture of the bond that two people in love can have.

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This love the author is describing is one of which all hopeless romantics dream of. His references to nature and his imagery of two lovers each being a part of a compass provide for a poem unlike any other.


Donne, John. “A Vlidiction Forbidding Mourning’” The Bedford Introduction to Liturature. Ed. Alanya Harter. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 1999. 790.


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