It seems that love has always been the driving force that has been keeping the humankind from facing the unbearable down-to-earth reality. Praised in a countless number of songs, love still is and will remain the key source of poets’ inspiration and the muse of all lyricists. Though the poem A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne concerns mostly the well-trodden issues of love, it represents a peculiar picture of people’s relationships, and does so in a completely new way, making the secular issues collide with the spiritual ones and, therefore, create a range of dilemmas which people have been facing since the very idea of love emerged.
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It is also necessary to mention that Donne chooses a very specific realm of the spiritual to show the links between the idea of pure, platonic love and its ore down-to-earth equivalent. While talking about the joy of being in love, Donne also describes the pain of parting, case in point being the parting by death itself.:
“As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, ‘No’” (Donne para.1-5).
It might be considered that such a gloomy portrayal of the way in which the relationships between two people can develop is far from being romantic. However, in the context provided by Donne, death is not the end of life and, therefore, love, but only another stage of a human’s development. Hence, love can and will exist after the couple has shuffled off their mortal coil, which is, according to Donne, the manifestation of its spiritual component:
“Dull sublunary lovers’ love
–Whose soul is sense – cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it” (Donne para.11-15).
Therefore, it seems that one of the key ideas of Donne’s poem is to convey the idea that love is more powerful than death. As Cavanaugh explained, Donne “engages in a didactic lesson to show the parallel between a positive way to meet death and a positive way to separate from lover” (Cavanaugh para.1) Not only does the author clearly state that love reaches way beyond the grave:
“But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,” (Donne, para.17-18),
but also assures that no secular catastrophes and disasters can harm love:
“Moving of the’ earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent” (Donne, para.6-10).
However, Donne’s poem can also be read as a manifestation of the feelings of a woman who has suffered unrequited love. According to Alitzer, “In ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ it is the woman’s constancy, her firmness as the fixed foot of the compass, that will make the circle perfect and assure the return of wandering foot (the poet)” (Alitzer 81). Indeed, considering the poem closer, one will see that in the following lines, a woman is portrayed waiting patiently for the roaming poet:
“And though it in the center sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home” (Donne para.25-30).
The given part is absolutely brilliant, for there are no indications as for who is the one awaiting – the poet refers to each of them as “it” – but it is still clear that it is a woman who is waiting for the wayward poet: “And makes me end where I began” (Donne para.35).
Finally, the idea of a never-ending circle of life and love must be mentioned. According to Donne, love is the king of a timeless feeling that will endure the time test and remain just as fresh and strong as it used to be at the very start of the romance:
“Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like the’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I began” (Donne para.32-35).
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Donne, therefore, conveys the idea that true love never dies; not quite an original idea, in the given poem, it works surprisingly well, since Donne takes it to another level, i.e., the level of spiritual relationships. Hence, the poet makes it clear that, once the romantic flair wears off, the links between the people who are in love with each other are still there, once the couple has some spiritual links.
Hence, it can be concluded that Donne’s interpretation of love is much more elevated and high-flown than any of the feelings of mere mortals can ever get. Because of the opposition of the spiritual and the secular element in the poem, love is introduced as a wholesome feeling and at the same time as a combination of conflicting emotions, i.e., the desire for pushing the relationships into even more intimate sphere and the urge to elevate these relationships as high as possible, depriving them of any possible element of vulgarity. In his attempt to untie the knot that has been there in people’s minds for centuries, Donne takes the reader onto a spiritual trip, making the audience realize that there is a balance of spirituality and passion, and that balance is called love.
Alitzer, Alma B. Self and Symbolism in the Poetry of Michelangelo, John Donne, and Agrippa d’Aubigne. New York, NY: Springer. 1973. Print.
Cavanaugh, Cynthia C. The Circle of Souls in John Donne’s ‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ n. d. Web.
Donne, John. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. n. d. Web.