Commentary on Donne’s Valediction: Forbidding Morning

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One of the hardest things to do is to leave someone that is dear to us, and convince them its ok. John Donne does so brilliantly in his poem Valediction: Forbidding Morning. The poem’s message is that the relationship between two lovers is greater than anything else to them, and that true love cannot be broken by distance. This poem is believed to be written at a time where Donne was leaving his pregnant and sick wife to tour Europe. This means that the message could also be the argument used for the speaker to leave in peace.

The main techniques that Donne uses in his poem are conceit (the comparison of two things that have nothing to do with each other) and rhetoric (persuasive argument). these two characteristics of Donne’s poem are typical of metaphysical poems. This is a metaphysical poem, with nine stanzas each with four lines using an ABAB rhyme scheme. It is written in iambic pentamena. The speaker in this poem is a man speaking to his lover, explaining to her that their love is strong enough to keep the couple together when they are far apart. The setting doesn’t change, or at least doesn’t seem to do so.

The tone of the poem is understanding, soothing, and calm. Some of the words that create this tone are: “melt” and “make no noise”. It is necessary to know that the speaker must speak in a mood that helps in convincing his lover that leaving makes no trouble. There are many conceits in this poem, but only one is major and others can be regarded as metaphors which support the conceit. At line five the speaker says: “so let us melt, and make no noise”. This sentence clearly is a metaphor to what will happen to their relationship. It is also interesting to note that everything that melts can be turned to solid again.

The molecules of a solid object are close together. When this object melts the liquid form of the molecules show they spread apart (As the man intends on parting from his lover for sometime). This is the first conceit/metaphor of the poem. Then a series of metaphors work together. He explains that with his separation no tears or sighs will come about: “no tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;” in so doing comparing the natural disasters to other peoples’ sadness. He then compares their separation to the trepidation of the spheres. “But trepidation of the sphere though greater far is innocent”.

In the Ptolemaic view of the universe the earth is at its center and the sun moves around the earth. All around this are the spheres. When the moving spheres collide with each other the shocks were thought to be trepidations or small vibrations. By this comparison he elevates the couple higher than the other people, and makes the couple seem celestial, and as they are higher they are closer to god. Thus their separation would have the greatness of the trepidations and are not as damaging as natural disasters (as they are “innocent”). The trepidations are also more remarkable than natural disasters.

Every other couple that is parting is compared to a less important earthquake which causes a lot of damage. “Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears;”. Not to mention an earthquake is set on earth therefore the couples causing the “earthquakes” are not celestial as they are. Now the major conceit is explained in the last three stanzas, comparing the couple in question to a compass. The first aspect to notice is that the speaker compares the woman with the fixed foot of the compass, and himself as the pencil holding part: “Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show To move but doth if the other do”.

This part of the compass is the strong, immobile, and stable part that supports its partner (the pencil holding part). This conceit is pretty straight forward. He explains that as a compass, when the pencil holding part is far from the center, the pin holding part bends in such a way so as to support it as much as it can, in order to be able to make a perfect circle: “Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ; Thy firmness makes my circle just And makes me end, where I begun. ” This translates in to: “no matter how far I am from you, if you support me, I will be able to surely come back.

Throughout the poem conceit has been used to ease the departure of the speaker, the further one goes in to his speech the more he/she is convinced that it would be good for him to leave. This shows that conceit plays a major part in the argument that the speaker presents as well. The argument that done came up with is simply genius. The argument is present throughout the whole poem. Everything that is said serves in helping the speaker get out of the awkward situation of saddening a woman. In the second stanza he tells her that it would be swearing/cursing their love to complain to the secular people.

Twere profanation of our joys to tell the laity our love. ” The fact that it would be profanity to do so makes their love seem more religious, therefore more respectable. The third stanza has a metaphor that was explained. In this stanza he places their love to the place of the spheres, thus close to god (as they are very high up). “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”. As they are so high up they are superior to other people.

He also compares their separation to a trepidation of the spheres, (which has a great effect but hurts no one) thus charming the lady even more in to his argument, seeing it is sensitive and beautiful at the same time. He then goes to say that their love is much too powerful and meaningful for distance to hurt: “Dull sublunary lovers’ love, (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit Absence, because it doth remove Those things which elemented it”. Distance hurts those whom love the physical sexual aspect of their relationship, for in distance the physical aspect of love is missing, but the spiritual one is not.

But we by a love so much refin’d That ourselves know not what it is,” Their love is deeper and not only sexual, thus distance cannot hurt the relationship. This also works the same way as the first example, as it is sweet, charming and convincing in an argument as well. He also describes lovers that rely on the physical aspect of love as “sublunary” (meaning under the moon), signifying these lovers are under the speaker and his lover in terms of love level. Donne then uses the amazing conceit of the compass as a mean of argument. he manages to get the speaker to switch the situation, making the woman feel guilty and not the man.

This even comes to be relatively ironic. The future of the relationship now relies on the shoulders of the woman, as she is the strong base. If she fails to support him he will not be able to come back from where he left. The conceit and the argument work together to strengthen each other. As given with last example of how the compass conceit was used to convince the woman it was ok to separate. They do so by fitting together logically, which is another attribute to metaphysical poems. The effect of these techniques on the reader is that the reader is put in the shoes of the person the speaker is talking to.

Thus one can feel like he/she is exactly inside the poem, and feels the emotion in a stronger way. By being put in the listener’s shoes one is duped in to believing what the speaker is trying to convey. The message feels like an excuse to leave; yet because one is charmed by what he/she hears one cannot help but let it go. Such a discourse makes a speaker seem witty and good at debates at the same time. The speaker comes off as very intelligent and manipulative. This is so because he can support his excuse for leaving thus making his lover believe him. With such skill at arguments one could easily become the best salesman available.

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