A Valediction Forbidding Mourning by John Donne | Analysis

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning by John Donne | Analysis

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning Analysis

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning is one of the most admired poems of Donne, particularly famous for its much praised conceit of the compass. It is a tender love lyric, addressed to his wife, Anne More, and, like Song: Sweetest Love and Elegy XVI (On His Mistris’), written on the occasion of the poet’s departure from home for the continent in the year 1611.

His wife was unwilling to let him go. He exhorts his wife not to be sad at the time of his departure. His argument is that their love is spiritual, not physical. Spiritual love is something holy and divine, and far superior to the physical love of ordinary men and women. Physical love breaks by separation, but not spiritual love. Bodies can be separated, but not the souls, which always remain united.

Valediction means ‘farewell.’ Donne’s poetry is characterized by argumentative quality and ‘emotional intellectuality,’ or a fine balance between emotion and intellect. A Valediction Forbidding Mourning is a good example of Donne’s method of supporting a proposition by arguments from analogy.

In the first three stanzas the poet states the proposition- the lovers should part quietly and peacefully. This proposition is supported by two similes or analogies–their parting should be as peaceful as the deaths of virtuous men, and as natural as the ‘trepidations’ or movements of the spheres. The poem is also a good illustration of two other distinctive qualities of metaphysical poetry–frequent use of conceit and display of wit.

Like a true Metaphysical poet Donne makes abundant use of conceits and hyperboles in his poetry. A ‘conceit’ is a literary term which means a strained or far-fetched comparison. In this poem the two conceits used are those of gold and compass. They are very ingenious, far-fetched, and fantastic. The argument is their two souls, which are really one, will not break by separation, but expand as gold becomes more ethereal and refined when beaten, and their two souls are really one like the two feet of a compass which appear to be two but are really united at the top.

Coleridge, the renowned Romantic poet and critic, is very enthusiastic in his praises of this poem. He says, “An admirable poem which none but Donne could have written. Nothing was ever more admirably made out than the figure of the compass.” There is throughout a continuous argument in the poem, and the argument is inseparable from the poetry.

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A Valediction Forbidding Mourning Line by Line Analysis

  1. Virtuous- good, saintly,

Passé- die

mildly- quietly, peacefully

  1. Whisper to their soules to goe- they gently ask their souls to leave their bodies and depart from this world


  1. us- the poet and his beloved wife.

melt- bid good-bye to each other,

  1. teare- floods-floods of tears,

sigh-tempests- storms of sighs,

move- raise.

  1. prophanation-violation of the sanctity of, or
  2. layetie- laymen, common men who do not know the meaning of true spiritual love
  3. Moving of th’ earth- an earthquake,
  4. reckon- calculate

what it did–what damage it caused,

meant- causes of the earthquake,

  1. trepidation- movement, agitation,

spheres- planets, heavenly bodies

  1. innocent- harmless,
  2. Dull sublunary- earthly lovers not realizing higher spiritual love
  3. soule is sense- whose love is merely physical
  4. Absence- Separation, for
  5. elemented it- of which it is composed,
  6. so much refin’d- of pure essence,
  7. Inter-assured of the mind- They are fully assured of living in each other’s minds,
  8. breach- division, break,

expansion- increase,

  1. ayery thinnesse- airy thinness of a leaf

beate- when beaten.

  1. stiffe-strong, firm

twin compasses are two- like two feet of a pair of compasses.

  1. makes no show, etc.- which does not seem to move.
  2. if th’ other doe- moves with the other foot.
  3. it in the centre sit- As the fixed foot of a pair of compasses remains at the centre, so the beloved stays at home.
  4. rome- roam, Wander.
  5. hearkens- runs after (figuratively).
  6. growes erect- gets revived.
  7. obliquely runne- move in a circle, was
  8. firmness- constancy,

my circle just- is the cause of my journey’s success.

  1. end- i.e. return home.

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