The peace in a tear’s absence
One of the most common fears is the fear of losing someone who is close to you. The drama caused by such events make impressions on a person that can last a lifetime. Many people spend years mourning a death. John Donne deals with these ideas in his poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”. He centers on the wasted energy of mourning, and the consequences of it. There are better ways to deal with a loss of that magnitude. Death does not have to cause the end of other lives around it. The poem is meant to offer peace to someone who has lost a loved one.
A valediction is a farewell. It is a speech often given at a funeral. John Donne was the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for many years. He gave many valedictions in his days as the dean, unfortunately one of his valedictions may have been for his lost wife. Donne was very well educated and grew up surrounded by the church and the arts. These influences no doubt helped to shape his views on love and the passing of life.
Each stanza of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” is tied together by an ” a – b – a – b” rhyme scheme. This is not surprising because of the calming effect expected of this poem. The steady back and forth motion of the rhyme calms down the reader, much as a hug that rocks you back and forth calms you. This poem’s purpose is to offer peace to those who read it. The steady use of rhyme provides a rhythmic, serene environment. In addition to a well-developed rhyme scheme, Donne employs very few end stops. The only time periods are used is to end a stanza, all other line breaks are handled by commas or no punctuation at all. This once again adds a natural and peaceful flow to the poem.
The first three stanzas of the poem deal with the way people react to a death. When there is a death, people carry on and waste time and energy crying – “So let us melt, and make no noise, / No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move, ” ( 5 – 6 ). Donne uses alliteration twice in these lines with melt/make/move and no/noise/no/nor. His choice of words ties together the lines and brings the readers attention closer to the important message that tears do not help they only prolong the mourning. The stanza goes on to remind the mourner that proclaiming your love for the deceased to others only serves to cheapen the memories held dear ” ‘Twere profanation of our joys / To tell the laity our love” ( 7 – 8 ). Donne uses the word “profanation”, according to Webster’s dictionary to profane something is to “debase by a vulgar use”. Time well spent with a lover should be relived in the heart alone . No one can understand your love for someone else, so explaining those good times would only serve to cheapen the memories in your heart.
The 3rd stanza chastises man’s tendency to make a big thing out something that happens everyday. Even though the death of a person is a big deal, its is still one life in a sea of other lives. Donne reminds the mourner that “the trepidation of the spheres” ( 11 ) is a far more violent and destructive event than the death of a loved one. The violent events attributed to causing the disruption of planetary orbits are viewed as minor when compared to man’s pain. In reality, the trepidation of the spheres has a huge impact while one person’s death does not.
What happens when it is the one you love most that is lying in the coffin? This is the topic of the next three stanzas. If you truly love the person than everything should be all right. Love is a very powerful thing and not even death can mute its song. Donne distinguishes between different types of love. “Dull sublunary lovers’ love” ( 13 ) is temporary and will collapse when an obstacle is presented. Death can destroy this kind of love because “Absence, because it doth remove / Those things which elemented it” ( 15 – 16 ). This love is more of a lust based in the physical pleasures. When the body is gone, there is nothing left. There was no kind of supernatural force in their coming together. When one dies, the connection dies as well. The other kind of love is much more immortal – “But we by’a love so much refined / That our selves know not what it is” ( 17 – 18 ). Donne is possibly describing the love that he felt for his wife who passed away some years before. A death that interrupts this type of love is not ” a breach, but an expansion” ( 23 ). Unlike the first type, this kind of love is based in something that neither person can explain. Some unseen force brought them together and that force remains forever. This love does not break apart when one lover dies. The poetry of this stanza paints a love that can reach across the largest trench.
In the last three stanzas, Donne uses a powerful image to symbolize the greater love. “If they be two, they are two so / As stiff twin compasses are two” ( 25 – 26 ). The alliteration of the ‘t’ sound once again emphasizes the importance of this line. The two people who share this profound love are the two feet of the compass. When drawing a circle the base foot stays in the center while the other foot moves away to trace the circle. The whole compass leans towards the circle, just as the mourning lover leans towards the lost love. Even though the two lovers are apart they both know that they will be back together soon. Donne recognizes that to cry over losing a loved one is foolish because it is a merely temporary situation.
Just because a person no longer breathes that does not mean the love no longer breaths. That love lives stronger in the heart than ever. Real love is never physical it reigns supreme in the hearts of those who share it. John Donne reminds the mourner of this to bring peace to them. The final four lines deliver a message of hope for anyone who has truly loved – ” Such wilt thou to me, who must / Like th’ other foot, obliquely run. / Thy firmness makes my circle just, / and makes me end where I begun.”( 33 – 36 ).