Loveís Expansion in Absence
Absence is often thought to be the producer of rifts and ruination in relationships. John Donne uses absence to create a poem that is rich in the use of similes and metaphors. In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" John Donne creates a poem with the use of similes and metaphors that emphasizes an extraordinary love that is strong enough to endure absence. John Donne wrote "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" to his wife preceding a trip to Germany and France. Many people, including "Izzak Walton, a contemporary of John Donne, suggested that ĎA Valediction: Forbidding Mourningí has a strong autobiographical element" (Bloom 63). Although Donne most likely wrote this poem to his wife, absence can be a focus between any two lovers. Throughout the poem, the speaker makes three main points. He informs the reader that the love he and his partner share is beyond a normal love, that their love is strengthened in absence, and finally, that he compares their love to twin compasses.
First, the speaker writes that the love he and his love share is beyond a normal love. Using a simile, the speaker writes that "as virtuous men pass mildly away / [. . .] / So let us melt, and make no noise" (Donne 5). The author does not want the parting to be a huge affair that would attract attention. He uses a simile to compare the parting with his love to the passing of virtuous men. This comparison is significant because the death of a virtuous man would be a quiet event that would cause friends to wonder when the passing had even occurred. According to the literary critic John Pipkin:
A virtuous man allows his soul to depart so quietly that the friends gathered around the bed disagree over whether the man has actually died. A man of virtue has no reason to fear death or the departure of his soul, because he can be certain of his soulís reward in the afterlife. (212)
This explanation of a virtuous man is completely different from a less virtuous man who may give some indication of his passing, most likely through tears and sighs (Donne 6). To die with such tumult would inform everyone of the exact time of his death. To part with anguish would inform the "laity" of the love the speaker and his love share (Donne 8). Letting the common people see the love the couple shares would take away from the richness of their love. According to Pipkin, the laity are those people who are unordained in the sacrament of their love (212). The speaker and his lover are the only people who can "truly know and understand the love that they themselves feel for each other" (Pipkin 212). With the true understanding these lovers have for each other, absence is not strong enough to destroy their love.
The speaker also indicates that his love is beyond normal love through his metaphorical comparison that his love is far above a "dull sublunary loversí love" (Donne 13). A "sublunary loversí love" suggests an earthly love, and an earthly love is not what the speaker has in mind (Donne 13). An earthly love would be a love easily torn asunder, either through absence or another concern. Caroline Levchuck, a writer and editor, explains that "this common love [. . .] cannot withstand absence, as physicality is the very thing upon which such [. . .] immature love is cemented" (208). Levchuckís explanation explains to the reader that these worldly lovers cannot live without a constant physical reminder. The speaker knows that his love is strong enough to endure even absence. Through a metaphorical comparison to an earthly love, the speaker is able to relate to the reader that his love is far beyond anything normal. Through this relation, the reader realizes that the speakerís love can endure absence.
Second, the speaker relates that the love he shares with his amour is strengthened in absence. This love they share is continued in absence because it is a love not entirely physical. An entirely physical love evaporates as soon as one physical being separates from another. The speaker uses a simile to compare his departure to "an expansion/ Like gold to airy thinness beat" (Donne 23-24). Since the souls of these lovers are one, the love they share simply expands in absence. The capability of a love to expand is extraordinary in itself. Due to the expansive ability of this love, absence can only strengthen the two loversí bond. The speakerís comparison of this love to gold tells the reader that this is a love that could endure great hardship. Gold, a very malleable and precious metal, does not break under pressure. It has the ability to be expanded and shaped. "Both gold and love can be melted and merged; both can be 'hammered' and yet remain strong and essentially unchanged" (Bussey 211). The speaker creates the simile comparing the expansion of the two loversí souls to gold to show the value and strength of his love. The speaker also makes it clear to the reader that he considers this love to be very precious. According to Bussey, gold is "bright, luminous, durable, and valuable" and "is obviously analogous to the type of love the poet describes in this poem" (211). This description causes the reader to realize that the speaker compares his love to gold because of the value as well as the durability of the metal. This love is not a love that would break under pressure. Instead, this love is like gold and will expand and grow in any situation. Through the creation of similes, the writer is able to compare the endurance of his love to gold. This comparison is highly significant because the speakerís love, like gold, is precious and can expand without breaking.
Third, the speaker compares his love to twin compass feet. In this simile, the speaker of the poem tells of the infinity of the love he shares with his lover. As twin feet of the compass make a perfect circle, the love the speaker and his lover share will do the same. According to Levchuck, "circles [. . .] symbolize not only perfection but infinity" (208). This notion of infinity causes the reader to realize the depth of love the speaker has for his lover. The foot of the compass that "far doth roam" always returns to the beginning point, and the speaker is saying that his relationship is no different (Donne 30). An absence, regardless of the distance, will always result in the reunion of the lovers. Even if this separation is only "the daily round of pedestrian business" as Edmund Millers feels it might be, the reunion is always special (309). The ability of the lovers to reunite is due to the remarkable love the couple shares. If the two lovers did not share an extraordinary love, they would not even have the capability to reunite. The ability of this love to transcend above absence is made evident in the reunion.
In his simile describing the twin feet of the compass, the speaker also remarks that "If they be two, they are two so/ As stiff twin compasses are two" (Donne 25-26). Within these two lines the speaker is proclaiming the closeness he shares with his love. The couple must be apart, but they are still attached. The greatest joy for these lovers would be "when the travels come to an end, and the lovers are reunited, they both stand tall and remain steadfastly side by side, as the two legs of a closed compass" (Bussey 211). The speaker, with the creation of this descriptive simile, is able to create a comparison between the expansiveness of love and twin compass feet to relate truly the magnificence of his love. With this comparison in mind, the reader realizes that with this extraordinary love, absence can only result in a reunion and a strengthened love.
In conclusion, John Donne creates a poem that celebrates and exemplifies the characteristics needed in a strong and enduring relationship. The speaker uses similes and metaphors to describe the profound relationship he has with his mate. He relates through similes that his love is beyond a normal love. He goes on to say that his lover and he have a relationship that is strengthened in absence. Finally, the speaker uses similes to compare the perfection and infiniteness of his love to a compass. Throughout the poem the speaker uses highly descriptive metaphors and similes to portray the remarkable characteristics of the love he shares.
Bloom, Harold. "Thematic Analysis of ĎA Valediction: Forbidding
Mourning.í" Bloomís Major Poets: John Donne. Ed.
Bussey, Jennifer. Poetry for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 209-211.
Donne, John. "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." Perrineís
Literature: Structure, Sound,and Sense. Eds. Thomas R.
Levchuck, Caroline M. Poetry for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 207-209.
Miller, Edmund. "John Donne." Magillís Choice: Notable Poets. Vol. 1. Pasadena: Salem P, 1998. 308-309.
Pipkin, John. Poetry for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 211-213.
This essay was written by Heather Hughes, then a freshman in General
Studies. It was written for Dr. Barbara Murrayís ENGL 1102 class during
spring 2002 semester.
This essay was written by Heather Hughes, then a freshman in General Studies. It was written for Dr. Barbara Murrayís ENGL 1102 class during spring 2002 semester.