A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning #

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.


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.


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.


  • 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.


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:”


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.


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.