About the author
John Donne, one of the most innovative of the English poets, was born
into a Roman Catholic family in 1572.
He was educated at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
Though he did not take any academic degrees or practice law, he read
widely in knowledge areas such as theology, medicine, law and the classics.
As a preacher, Donne was known for his metaphorical style, knowledge
He is a metaphysical poet died in 1631.
Metaphysical poets is a term coined by the poet and critic Samuel Johnson
to describe a loose group of English lyric poets of the 17th century.
Whose work was characterized by the inventive use of conceits and by
speculation about topics such as love or religion
These poets where not formally affiliated; most of them did not even know
one another or read one another's work.
Their style was characterized by wit and metaphysical conceits – far-
fetched or unusual similes or metaphors such as in Donne’s description of
the effects of absence on lovers to the action of a pair of compasses.
Some of the major characteristic of
It is marked by intellectual wit and passionate thought.
It is often in the form of an intense, urgent argument.
It employs a subtle often outrageous logic.
The use of images and metaphors drawn from varied and often obscure fields
of knowledge. The images are sometimes elaborate, sometime condensed.
The use of metaphysical conceits (that is witty, ingenious comparison between
dissimilar things or concepts)
The skillful use of paradox, pun and startling similes
A striking dramatic quality and abrupt transitioning in thought and feeling.
The poetic language and rhythm are often those of living speech.
John Donne as a metaphysical poet
John Donne is the foremost metaphysical poet in English.
Donne’s intellectual wit and energy, his passionate thought and his power
of poetic argument make him the first metaphysical poet in English
Dryden said that Donne “affects metaphysics” and “uses nice speculation
of philosophy” in his love poetry.
Donne’s poem, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” possesses all the
characteristic features of metaphysical poetry.
About the poem
A valediction: Forbidding Mourning possess all these characteristic
features of metaphysical poetry.
It was written in 1611 when the poet parted from his wife for a journey to
“I” of the poem may be the poet himself or the I can be taken to mean and
imaginary lover speaking to his beloved.
Donne returned from his continental tour in 1612 and was reunited with
The poem is in the form of an argument made by a lover to his beloved.
The lover wants his beloved not to grieve at the time of their parting.
He compares separation to death.
Virtuous men die peacefully, but ignorant persons are afraid of death.
It is not wise to exhibit one’s grief to the world
The poet makes a distinction between physical love and spiritual love.
Those who delight in physical love cannot be a separation or parting. But those who
love rest on the soul can bear physical separation.
The lover tell his bellowed that their two souls are one. Therefore parting does not mean
a break, but an expansion of their soul.
Even if their souls are two, they are related to each other in a deep sense. Their souls are
like the two feet of a compass.
In compass, the soul of the beloved appears like the fixed foot. But when the other foot
moves, it also leans an heeds the movement. When the other foot returns after
completing a circle the two feet are united.
So the lover persuasively argues that the firmness of his beloved will enable him to
return to her safely after his journey.
Analysis of the poem
Stanzas 1 & 2. Parting is compared to death. Virtuous men die peacefully. So
the lover tells his beloved that they can also part peacefully, without a display
of tears and sighs.
Stanza 3. Parting should not affect us just as the movement of the celestial
bodies do not affect the earth.
Stanzas 4 & 5. For those who love rests on the senses parting is unbearable.
But those who love is spiritual can easily bear separation.
Stanza 6. The lover tell his mistress that their souls are one. Therefore parting
does not mean break, but expansion of their soul.
Stanzas 7-9. Even if their souls are two they are like the two feet of compass.
The soul of the beloved is like the fixed foot of the compass. When the other
foot moves it also leans and heeds the movement. The other foots rejoins the
fixed foot after completing the circle. So the firmness of the beloved will
enable the lover to complete his journey and to rejoin her.
Figure of speech used in this poem
“So let us melt… nor high tempests move”
The figure of speech used in this line is hyperbole or exaggeration.
The poet speaks about raising floods of tears and tempests of sighs, which is
evidently an exaggeration for the sake of effect.
“Twere profanation of our joys to tell the laity our love”
The metaphor is the figure of speech used in this line. True lovers are compared
to ordinary priests. If they weep and sigh during separation, they will be like
laymen and not like the priests of true love
“Moving of the earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant”
The figure of speech of earth quake in these lines suggest that lovers should
not express great emotions at the time of parting.
Figure of speech used in this poem
“But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far’ is innocent”
The figure of speech in this line is earth quake which frighten people, but the
movement of the heavenly bodies, although far greater than the earth quakes,
is not felt by the people.
“Dull sublunary lovers’ love”
The poetic device used in this line is assonance and alliteration.
“Our two souls, therefore, which are one…
Like gold to aery thinness beat”
The poetic device used in this line is conceit.
The rhyme scheme employed in the poem is abab, cdcd.
Sruthy P B
1st M.A, English language & Literature
St. Mary’s College, Manarcadu, Kottayam.