John Donne: Poems

What's Love Got to Do With It?: On John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

Their love is like a virtuous man at death. Their love is like the planets in their orbits, not earthquakes. Their love is like a sheet of flattened gold. Their love is like a compass used in math class. These sentiments as they stand would do little to comfort a lover on the eve before a lengthy separation. They appear random, disjointed, and emotionless. In the context of John Donne's metaphysical poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," these images comprise an element in the speaker's assertion of his love, attesting to its sacredness, steadfastness, true worth, and guidance. Despite their sterile appearances, this imagery conveys a touching and profound vision of love within the context of this poem.

An extended separation from a loved one can be emotionally wrenching, but Donne argues that overt displays of sadness do a grave injustice to the sacred love between the speaker and his partner. Rather than wailing and lamenting their imminent deaths, "virtuous men pass mildly away" with but a mere "whisper to their souls" that time has come to leave "their sad friends" and venture forth from the earth to heaven (2,3). The passive and peaceful images of a mild and whispered...

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