Religious Spiritualism in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

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A metaphysical poet, John Donne was renowned for his work, many of which employed the use of conceits, a striking parallel between two highly dissimilar things. In his poem, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” Donne employs the use of symbols and rhetoric to combine the underlying themes of religious spiritualism and undying love.Donne uses various symbols and metaphors throughout the entirety of his poem.

He starts off by alluding to death with a metaphor about an old man dying. Welcoming death as a friend and a peaceful transition to the afterlife, Donne connects this back to his love for his wife. Even though him leaving will stimulate feelings similar to approaching death, Donne re-enforces that their love is so pure and powerful that it has ascended to a new spiritual level and will make their parting more tolerable and less sorrowful. Donne, who is also the speaker, starts this poem bidding adieu to his wife, reminding her not to mourn his temporary absence.

The first few stanzas truly display the strength of Donne’s love for his wife despite the looming situation of his absence. Aligning himself with the “virtuous men” (I. 1), Donne connotes that his love for his wife is sturdier than most, unlike that of the common people. Employing sensory rhetoric, such as “And whisper to their souls to go” (I. 2), “The breath goes now, and some say, No” (I. 4), and “So let us melt, and make no noise,” (I. 5), Donne appeals to his readers’ senses of sound and touch as he prepares to depart his wife.The second metaphor that Donne employs is to nature. In the Elizabethan Era, members of the Christian faith believed that the planets and the stars were part of the spiritual world as heavenly bodies. Through this belief, Donne compares his love to nature, amplifying it to a mammoth and extraterrestrial power in the line, “Twere profanation of our joys” (I. 7).

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While he does employ the phrase, “No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move” (I. 6) as a metaphor, Donne wants to show that his wife is crying and sighing that he has to leave her, using floods and winds to exaggerate the emotions of other couples and differentiates his relationship from theirs. Donne continues to try to appease his wife’s struggling since they have to be apart; he convinces her that their love is stronger and that he will see her soon, telling her that the spiritual love between them is unique and stronger than any other couple. Using words such as profanation, laity, and refined, Donne’s stance is that their pure love would be degraded if he states that it’s common instead of spiritual.

Furthermore, Donne uses situational irony in these stanzas. While the phrase “trepidation of the spheres” (I. 11) is a representation of astrology, Donne contrasts this with the “dull sublunary lovers’ love” (I. 13) connotes the lowly love of other earthly beings. Furthermore, the poem implies that men think that the stars have control over their lives, but they actually do not in the lines “Men reckon what it did, and meant; But trepidation of the spheres, Though greater far, is innocent” (II, 10-12). However, the biggest metaphor stated is between Donne’s love and the two feet of a compass, an instrument for drawing circles, with the relationship between the two feet of the compass showing how two people can love each other since they are always connected even though they are apart.

In the line, “As stiff twin compasses are two;” (I. 26), Donne emphasizes the feet of the compass as stiff and unflinching; these two joints are permanently fused together in a bond of love. In the next few lines, Donne addresses his wife, calling her “Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show To move, but doth, if th’ other do” (II, 27-28), the center of his world who provides stability towards his life, the circle. Finally, Donne applies the other foot to himself 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.” (II, 33-36). By labelling himself as the one the traces the circle, Donne emphasizes that his wife is responsible for his actions in life, and his journey will end back in her arms, just like a perfect circle.

Donne achieves a caring tone through examples of comparing their love on a spiritual level and contrasting it to regular love. He states that their love is profane and that it would make them incomplete if he compares it to those of common people. Physical love cannot endure being apart, but theirs can be.

Overall, John Donne is able to combine the symbols, death, nature, and the compass, and his own rhetoric to enhance the mode of religious spiritualism.

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