On Sunday, I mentioned my enjoyment of John Donne’s religious poetry. As a friend mentioned elsewhere, she also likes his love poetry, written earlier in his life. This is one of my favorites. Donne’s imagery of two separated lovers as two ends of a compass, where one travels away but always comes back to the fixed point in the center at the end is one of the most beautiful images of love I’ve read.
A Valediction Forbidding Mourning
by John Donne
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.”
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
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd 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 aery 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 th’ 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.
3 thoughts on “April is Poetry Month – Day 9”
Oh, I love this one so much. I think it was while he was on the trip that he wrote this poem for that he had a vision of his wife crying and holding a dead child. He was so upset about it that his employer sent a servant back to England for news. Turns out his wife had gone into early labor and their child was stillborn. It had happened on the same day and at about the same hour as his vision.
I didn’t know the back story. Thank you for sharing it. Knowing the circumstances gives the poem even greater poignancy.
Beautiful. I am not familiar with John Donne’s work. I’ve heard him described as a Christian who was never able to believe God loved him. Have you seen any evidence of that in his work.