In John Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, a symbolic, detailed relationship between two legs of a compass is established as one of the major themes of the poem.
In John Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, a symbolic, detailed relationship between two legs of a compass is established as one of the major themes of the poem. Donne, writing to his wife, draws comparisons between the love between him and his wife and the legs of the compass.. The use of this abstract metaphor provides directly aligned imagery, allowing the reader to firmly grasp the emotional and creative depth of this poem. Furthermore, the underlying themes of this imagery contribute a subtle complexity to Donne’s love, further strengthening the link between his feeling for his wife and the impression placed upon the reader, as exemplified in multiple metaphors throughout the work.
Lines 25 and 26 state, “If they be two, they are two so/ As stiff twin compasses are two;” This direct comparison between the relationship between Donne and his wife’s souls provides the overbearing, metaphor that is critical to the structure and purpose of the work. Not only is the comparison elegant, unique and somehow refined, but it also turns out to be much more than just a simple metaphor. In the lines following, Donne develops lines such as “Thy soul, the fixed foot…” (Line 27) and “th’ other do” (Line 28), which make specific reference to the parent metaphor. This assigns a specific part of the compass to the role of Donne’s wife’s soul, creating another metaphor. However, this also provides direct imagery; the reader can picture the essence of the speaker’s lover embodied in the compass leg, standing fast as the other leg, Donne’s soul, moves about. This is also exactly what was happening as Donne wrote the poem; his wife was staying at home, fixed, while Donne migrated to the continent. Expanding on this, the reader can imagine his soul moving, and how his wife’s soul, the fixed foot, reacts by “[making] show” (Line 27) to move. As Donne develops the detail in which metaphor is related to the relationship between the couple, the underlying theme of confidence and strength found in his love becomes apparent. By comparing his love to the ‘stiff’ compass legs, which sit ‘fixed’, he implies strength in which the lovers will not cave to their decision. However, line 28 contrasts this strength in a positive way, saying that “…but doth, if th’ other do.” This makes apparent the loving connection the two have, as even though they are staying where they are, their love remains just as connected and reliant upon each other. Further contributing to this theme is found with line 24’s comparison of their love “Like old to airy thinness beat.” When gold is stretched and beaten, it can expand to two points that are quite distant from each other, as are the bodies of husband and wife in Donne’s situation. However, like the love the two share, the gold remains in contact with itself, refusing to snap no matter how far the distance from end to end. This exemplifies the portrayal of the complexity and depth of Donne’s love, found deep inside the poem’s hidden implications.
In continuation of this hidden theme, line 6 states “No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move”. Here, imagery is provided because of the violent nature of the pronunciation of the words ‘floods’ and ‘tempests’. The words alone imply a violent atmosphere alone, but with the combination of their diction, a hidden theme of disturbance that crying and mourning would provide is placed upon the reader. The final of the poem 9Line 28), which states “And makes me end where I begun.”, provides yet another in-depth message. Line 27, “Thy firmness makes my circle just,” tells how it is because Donne’s wife is firm and strong with her love that the circle can be perfectly round. Because circles are infinite, their starting and stopping points are the same; therefore, when Donne refers to ending “where [he] begun”, the line implies that he will someday return home to his wife. However, when combined with the previous line, the reader can infer that it is only through the firm steadfastness of his wife that Donne will return where he began; that is to say, if his wife were to sever the connection of love between the two, he would not to return back to where he began. Just as a loose compass, the exterior leg will end up straying from it’s origin if the center point does not remain stationary. This could have yet another hidden meaning: is Donne saying that without his wife remaining strong, he will not return home? By making such literal comparisons between a tangible object such as a compass, much is left to interpretation as to how much of the compass can be directly related to Donne’s love. However, this imagery greatly contributes, yet again, to the complexity embedded within the poem, exemplifying the nature of Donne’s love.
From a more optimistic perspective, the reader, imagining a compass, can picture the pleasantry of the circle being completed. This pleasantry can also found in the grace of two lovers being reunited, conveying the calm and thorough nature of Donne’s love. This contrast of interpretations provides yet another theme of love; different sides of it will be affected differently, just as the decision to move away from his wife has treated Donne in a different way than his wife.
Through subtle, in-depth analysis of the themes, both obvious and deeply underlying, Donne professes the full truth of his love; it is complex, gentle, and graceful. It is the deep-rooted use of metaphor that Dunn is able to convey his emotions, which would otherwise be almost impossible to translate into prose. By allowing the imagery of the metaphor to be directly related to the elements of Donne’s love, the reader is guided through the complexity present in the relationship between Donne and his wife.