Group Reports/ Members





John Donne (1572-1631)

" A Valediction : Forbidding Mourning"


Tuesady, March 21, 2000

About Life of JOHN DONNE
"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"
Metaphysical Poems
1. Paraphrase
2. Vocabulary
3. Speaker /Listener
4. Metaphors & Imagery
5. Structure
6. Personal Opinion

Complied and Designed by BUCK LEE


Metaphysical Poems

The poem "A Valediction: Forbidding mourning" is a typical metaphysical poem.

The word "metaphysical" means using words with their ordinary meaning, but are describing something by means of an image or symbol. This word is first used by the critic Samuel Johnson(1709-1784) and he used it as a despise term. It applied to a group of seventeen-century poets which he complained that their poetry has too much far-fetched meaning. That means they often use vocabularies from science or law that common people will not understand. For example, the word "spheres". He thinks that they are too proud of their wit. Thus, the crowd was criticizing the metaphors; however, they were out of critical favor for the 18th and 19th century. At the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, the famous essay " The Metaphysical Poets" written by T.S.Eliot made people started to have interests in this book.

There are several qualities the metaphysical poems have:

1. Use of ordinary speech mixed with puns, paradoxes, and conceits ( a paradoxical metaphor causing a shock to the reader by the strangeness of the objects compared: some examples: lovers and a compass, the soul and timber, the body and mind)

2. Often poems are presented in the form of an argument. (ex: The Flea) From the poem "The Flea" we can see that the speaker is trying to persuade her lover to have sexual intercourse with him by using a flea and the woman rejects him. So they are having an argument in that poem.

3. In love poetry, the metaphysical poets often draw on ideas from Renaissance Neo-Platonism to show the relationship between the soul and body and the union of lovers' souls. For example, in stanza three: " moving of the earth" implies for earthling people's physical love and the trepidation of the spheres means their holy and noble love which based on spiritual contact.

4. Abstruse terminology often drawn from science or law. For example, the word " spheres" he used in this poem is a word used especially in science.

There is a group of English metaphysical poets, such as John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughn and Abraham Cowley.


Fu Jen U. English Literaturee Databank

The Life of JOHN DONNE

(John Donne 1572-1631)

He was a poet born in London, England, U.K. He educated at Oxford and Cambridge and studied law in London. His future career was excellent, but his secret marriage with Ann More had dismissed and cast him into prison. Thus, his hopes of public career were put to an end. He had a firm Catholic background; however, in 1593 after his younger brother Henry died in prison because of harboring a priest, he gave up his Roman Catholic faith and joined the Anglican Church. His Catholic birth and training, implanted enthusiasm in metaphysical, and influenced a lot in his later works. Later in the year of 1615, Donne was appointed Royal Chaplain and in due course, he was appointed Reader in Divinity at Lincoln's Inn. And he made him one of the most eloquent preachers of his time.

His wife, Ann More married him at the age of 17, and passed away when she was 33 years old. (1617) During their marriage, they endure many years of poverty. Therefore, although Ann had born 12 children, there were only 7 whom survived. John must have loved his wife a lot because he sacrificed everything for her, and doubtlessly, their love must have been deep and lasting. His earliest poetry consisted of the "conceited verses" (using elaborate metaphors to link seemingly dissimilar subjects). Most of these were apparently written in the 1590s. They record a series of actual or fictitious love affaires, in which the lover woos, not by praising his mistress's beauty, but by arguing, cajoling, and plunging off into philosophical speculation and flights of fancy. They show a strange blend of the conversational (most of these poems open with a phrase that might come straight from colloquial speech) with the involved, and of the outspokenly erotic with theoretical questions apparently having little to do with the experience of love. His religious poems show the same passion and ingenuity as his love poetry.

His creative years can be divided into three periods.

1. First period (1590-1601): a time of passion and cynicism. Works: Elegies, Songs and Sonnets, Problems and Paradoxes. ( including cynical, realistic, often sensual lyrics, essays and verse satires.)

2. Second period (1601-1617): a period of anguished meditation and flattery of the great. Works: Anniversaries and funeral poems. ( reveal that his faith in the order of things had been disrupted by the growing political, scientific and philosophic doubt of the times.

3. Third period (1618-1631): religious times Works: Devotions, sermons. (shows that in transferring his loyalty from the world to God. He retained his earlier passion.

Beaty, Jerome and Paul Hunter. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: Norton, 1998.


"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,

"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No.

When virtuous men leave mildly, he whispers to their souls to go. While some of their sad friends say, "The breath is gone", 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.

So let us get together physically and spiritually, and do not make noise, do not have tears and do not sigh .It will ruin the joy of our love if we tell the people our love. (Because they do not understand our noble love)

Moving of the earth brings harms and fears ;

Men reckon what it did, and meant ;

But trepidation of the spheres,

Though greater far, is innocent.

People always see the harms and fears that caused by earthquake. But the movement of the spheres causes more influences. However, people do not notice it .So they feel that it is harmless.

Dull sublunary lovers' love

(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit

Of absence, 'cause it doth remove

The thing which elemented it.

Dull sublunary lover's love, which depends on sense, cannot last long and is changeable, because their love remove with their lover's absence .The absence will be the elements to ruin their love.

But we by a love so much refined,

That ourselves know not what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

But our love is so pure and noble that we do not know how to describe it. The firmness of our mind does not build up by the encounter of eyes, lips and hands. (If these things do not exist, it does not matter.)

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.

Therefore, our two souls are in one. Though I must go, if we endure our love, it will not cause a breach an expansion. Like the gold transform into foil (just like endless connection between us)

If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two ;

Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show

To move, but doth, if the other do.

If we are going to separate into two, we will like the compasses. Your soul, the fixed one of the compasses does not move. It will only move when the other foot does.

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.

And though the fixed one sits in the center, yet when the other foot far wanders, the fixed one leans and listened to it. And when it comes back, the other grows erect.

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.

You will be one of the feet of the compasses to me. If one of the feet moves, the other one moves together. Your firmness makes my circle right and I will always return to where I begun.



valediction (n.): farewell.

mourning (n.): mourning is behavior which you show sadness about a person's death.

virtuous (adj.): if you describe someone as virtuous, you mean that they behave in a moral and correct way.

tempest (n.): violent storm.

profanation (n.): treat a sacred thing with irreverence or disregard.

laity (n.): lay people, as distinct from the clergy.

reckon (v.): consider, regard or take into account.

trepidation (n.): fear.

refine(v.): clean, pure.

obliquely (adv.): not straight, indirectly

breach (n.): breaking of or failure to observe a law.

expansion (n.): enlargement.


Speaker / Listener

1. the speaker: the author himself.

2. listener: his lover. It is said she's his wife.



1. "As virtuous men pass mildly away, and whisper to their souls to goˇK so let us melt, and make no noise. "

Here the author uses metaphor of a virtuous man passing away that refers to his long departure, and asks his lover not to be sad, and do not cry.

2. "No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move. "

John Donne uses floods to compare with tears, and tempests to compare with sign. Hyperbole and natural phenomena are used to be compared to this love relationship. He uses this kind of emotional outbreak of laity's reaction to separation, so as to highlight how refined his love is.

3. "Moving of the earth brings harm and fearsˇKthough greater far, is innocent."

(the third stanza) The author implies the terrifying earthquakes as physical departure of those laity people. The movement of the spheres implies the spiritual departure of his lover and him.

We also think that the earthquakes mean the love between laity people. Their love changes quickly, and is imperfect. That's why the author, again, describes those people's loves as "dull and sublunary."( People in his period of time believe that the surface below the moon is imperfect). He thinks their love is not stable and is based on unity of physical (even sexual) element. However, he considers his and his lover's love is far greater and superior. He compares his love to the innocent and harmless movement of the spheres. Because he thinks their love is spiritual, so the long distance (or his departure) between he and his lover will not and cannot change their love.


1. "Like gold to airy thinness beat."

John Donne compares his love to the gold which has good expansion. It can be enlarged far just like their love can spread widely and will not change for the distance.

2. "As stiff twin compasses are two: Thy soul, the fixed footˇK"

The relationship of the two lovers is just like the compasses. One of the ends is apart, which implies their separation. However, they are together, just like the other ends of the compasses are combined together. Also, the outer leg represents the man, the inner leg sits his lover. Therefore, their relationship is just like compasses which closely are related to each other.

Tone/ Imagery

1. Tone: sincere.

2. Imagery: the gold, and the compasses.



physically and spiritually mixed together.

2.The sphere:

perfection which represents the union of souls in a relationship.

3.The circle:

it means perfection, too.

4. The compasses:

combination of two lovers; closely related to each other. That kind of relationship which cannot be separated.



1. Stanza one: We consider it as a "foreword". It tells readers not only the reasons why this poem formed but also the background and situation of the poem. It talks about a man is going to leave far away and ask his lover not to be sad for their love is noble.

2. Stanza two to five (the first persuasive view point): The speaker convinced the woman, his lover by telling her that his departure will not change their love for their love is based on inter-assured of the minds, not on physical contact, such as eyes, lips and head. The author also tells readers that their love is noble so laity people cannot understand it. Besides, he uses metaphors. For example, in stanza three, he compares the pain of two lovers physical separation to the earthquakes.

3. Stanza five to the last stanza (the second persuasive view point): The speaker still uses metaphors such as the endless expansion of gold to imply no matter how far they are apart, they are always together. He also compares their closely related and inseparable relationship to the compasses which its two legs are combined together whenever. The compasses means that even one part of them are separated, the other parts are still together. Plus, the outer leg moves (the man), the inner leg (the woman) moves, too. This metaphor describes perfectly their relationship.




My reflection on "A Valediction: Forbidding mourning" For the first time I read this poem, I felt very frustrated. This poem is so hard to understand. However, as I understand this poem gradually, I feel more and more attracted to it. When I understood this poem completely, I found that I have fall in love with this poem. I am astonished that how could John Donne wrote such a beautiful poem. How could he imagine those wonderful metaphors! Through this poem, I feel the beauty of metaphysical poems. In the stanza "And though it in the center sit, yet when the other far doth roam, It leans, and hearkens after it ˇK" Through the image of compasses, we can really "see" the inseparable love between this two lovers. In the last stanza: "ˇKThy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun." The speaker used this way to tell his lover that he will always come back to her. The spacer used so few words but expressed completely the firmness of his love. Frankly, if I were the listener, I would believe the speaker. I will wait my lover with my most great patience. Can you believe that? When I shared this poem with my friends, some of my friends were moved to tears!!


To tell the truth, I was frustrated when I read this poem. Even after I read it many times, and discussed with my group members, I still could not understand what it was talking about. Until I had discussed with the teacher did I finally get the main idea. Using metaphors in poem is a different experience for readers to read, at least for me. It is a love poem, however, because the author used metaphors, I felt I was persuade by him. Those words he said would not be just cliche. It was a usual way to express his feelings or writing a love poem like this. I also admire for their noble love. There is a saying" out of sight, out of mind". Many couples break up because of the distance and time, but the authors' will not. I think true love should be like that; it will not change with the time and space.

Grace's Reflection

I was impressive by John Donne who used a lot of metaphors in his poem, such as "The Flea", and "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning". Though these kinds of poems are difficult to understand and read at first, however, I felt extremely content after I knew what the author was talking about. These kinds of poems often give readers a "surprise". They also earn readers "admiration" that "how could they use different things to compare together?" I think reading metaphysical poems needs lots of "imagination"! I admitted that I had a hard time reading this poem and discussing it with my group. But I admired the authors who used metaphors in their poems. They not only have to use comparisons different from others but also have to know a lot, such as law and science. I consider John Donne as one of my favorite poets.