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Forbidden Mourning

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  • October 1999
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Simile and Metaphor in John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

Valediction: a farewell address forbidding his wife to mourn, strikes me as an extraordi¬

nary title for this poem. Donne's title has an implied meaning that contradicts how this poem

leads the reader to believe it's a love poem he writes to his wife before leaving on a journey to

France. A love so strong, so pure, that the bond could never possibly be broken, even after

death. Two souls who will always be together physically and spiritually. Donne's use of simile

and metaphor enhances the reader's perspective to see one thing, but come to conclusions of

something else.

In the first stanza, Donne writes "virtuous men who pass mildly away," he speaks of the

death of great men. Putting himself into that personification of the relationship between him and

his wife, he could possibly be speaking in the text, as if he is some kind of God over her. He is

obviously on a journey to France and has to leave her behind, but doesn't allow her to mourn be¬

cause he perceives himself as some kind of gentleman of eminence. Her mourning could taint

him in front of their friends, or possibly show some kind of weakness.

On the other hand, Donne's tone changes in the poem to show sincerity and love for his

wife. The relationship between him and his wife is a metaphor to gold (a pure element which

cannot be separated by any means). "A breach, but an expansion / Like gold to airy thinness

beat" is a simile for how far love can be stretched, just like gold can be hammered so thinly to go

such a long distance. But this poem talks of death, and upon that death, can love be stretched so

thinly to cross over into the afterlife? Donne leads me to believe his love for his wife is so pure,

so refined, and he so noble, that his love for her will never die, even after death. "The

breath goes now, and some say no:" (4)....

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