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 A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning - Donne, John

I. SOUND EFFECTS

The opening is hushed, a reverent atmosphere of a dramatically imagined situation of dying compared to parting. Repetition of “s” sounds creates a sibilant effect of quietness, pauses, faltering breath. Later Donne adopts a more argumentative tone.

II, SUBJECT MATTER

A recognised tradition of love poetry written in response to the separation or an anticipated absence of someone you love.  A Valediction is a farewell speech.  May have been written for his wife before he left for France with friends in 1611.?   The prevailing conceit of separation is compared to death. The moment of death is difficult to establish.

III. THEMES

* A pure heightened, idealised love can bear extended separation.

* Contempt shown for public demonstrative forms of affection.

* Passion that is controlled, not flagrantly flaunted is praised.

* We cannot understand our love (line  18.)

* The woman keeps the man true, faithful, loyal.

IV. POETIC TECHNIQUES

a) Argumentative:

a lawyer arguing a case.

use of rhetoric, persuasive techniques;

Material for thought, to move them emotionally and please them artistically,

Wit, and clever word play.

A rational perspective of an emotive event.

An objective appraisal of a subjective experience.

b) Series of comparisons, conceits, analogies:

* Parting like dying - their exchanged souls must be parted.

* lovers like virtuous people.

* Love  compared to Gold and Compasses.

c) Contrasts:

* Priest like love - layetie (common parishoners)

* refined spiritual love - dull sublunary lovers

* Movement of Spheres - Movement of Earth (earthquakes) (Huge but harmless) (local and destructive)

* expansion. .airy thinness - a breach

d)  Images

 

Donne revolted against the use of classical allusions, instead using familiar references to contemporary ordinary events such as new discoveries being made in the sciences and exploration. Here is T.S. Eliot on Donne:

                   “The age objects to the heroic and sublime,”

His reference are eclectic  (wide ranging) Renaissance, cerebral.

 

* Medicine:     dying man

* Religion:       layetie, profanity

* Seismology: earthquakes

* Astrology:     trepidation of the spheres

* Astronomy:   Sublunary lovers

* Philosophy:  Intricacies of the intellectual arguments

* Metallurgy:   malleability of Gold

* Geometry:    Circle (image of perfection) Compass.

 

e) Conceits:

* “Gold to ayrey thinness beat” - the qualification of “not yet a breach” lends an ambivalence to this image, tacitly admitting that such an expansion or separation runs the risk of snapping the fragile gold leaf and also their relationship.

* Donne’s celebrated famous Conceit is the ingenious Compass imagery.

“If they be two, they are two so As stiff twin compasses are two:”

 Yet in these politically correct times readers may find it male chauvinistic for the male to assume the right to be dominantly mobile in a relationship that expects the wife to be submissive, subordinate and stable. However the linking of the two souls of the lovers to the two poles of a compass was and remains a daring and bold analogy.

f) Paradox:

“Our two Soules therefore, which are one”

Later Donne concedes:

 “If they be two, they are two so As stiff twin compasses are two:”

V. LANGUAGE

Though intellectual and formal, 85% of the words are monosyllabic and colloquial. Some arcane archaic abstract terms:

Valediction -  a farewell speech often given at graduation ceremonies.

Trepidation – quivering, trembling, shaking.

inter-assured – mutual, reciprocal.

sublunary – Elizabethans believed the air beyond the moon’s revolution was pure and undefiled while within its orbit it was defiled, tainted or corrupted.

Elemented -  the verb form of what constitutes the world.

Obliquely – mathematical term for a line that runs indirectly or diagonally. Figuratively it implicit or suggestive rather than explicit.

 

VI. EVALUATION

 

Some critics believe this to be Donne’s greatest achievement especially in the display of his wit through the conceits.

Others find it a bit too paternalistic and clever.


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