Wednesday 20 April 2016

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

During my HSC year, I studied John Donne's poetry.

At first glance, it seemed challenging and ye olde worlde and irrelevant but as the year progressed and we studied our set pieces more thoroughly, I came to adore Donne's work.

There was something about the metaphysical poets that appealed to me (we also studied Andrew Marvell). I liked their wit, their hint of sexual innuendo and their unusual and unlikely use of metaphor and simile.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning (1611-12) has become the ultimate ode to long distant relationships.

Written for his wife, Ann, as Donne was leaving for a long European trip, he managed to compare their love to a mathematical compass. You know, one of those two pronged tools that help you trace a perfect circle, of any size, depending on the angle of the two prongs? Romantic huh?

As it happens, I think this is a very romantic poem and dare I say, sexy (with all those references to stiffness, growing erect and firmness, I think we can safely say that Donne was missing his wife!)

But this is a missing you, that is based on a mature, adult relationship. Being apart doesn't have to be a drama full of angst and tear-floods.
The Donnes' love is so deep, steady and refin'd, they can part calmly and make no noise, knowing their love will always keep them connected despite any harms and fears.
The relationship and the love is not broken or severed, just stretched to airy thinness beat until they can meet again where I begun.

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls, to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
'The breath goes now,' and some say, 'No:'

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refin'd,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

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.

With thanks to Hamlette @The Edge of the Precipice for hosting Poetry Appreciation Month.


  1. One of the best love poems ever and a great personal favourite.

  2. This is a beautiful poem. One of my favorites. x

  3. I'd never read this before! Having been married 14 years, I have to say that yes, parting when you've been together a long time is a really different thing from when you're in the throes of early love. Not happy, but not quite so... desperate.

  4. Gorgeous - I never understood even half of how sexy it was when we read it at school (probably intentionally...). So beautiful.


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