the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Donne, Songs and Sonnets

I don't know why but "A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning" really appealed to me. There is that conceit with the compass/circle/sphere, where he depicts the two separate legs (of the compass, I guess?) and remarks that they are still in fact only one, leaning and harkening after the other. It's funny that she's the fixed foot, and he's the one who wanders until "They firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun." Maybe he's explaining a past infidelity or something.

And the main theme of the poem, according to the title, is the passage of souls. The footnote says that Donne addressed this poem to his wife after she gave birth to a stillborn child. So the two souls are meant to signify more than courting lovers, but the Mother-Child love as well. By the mild passing of virtuous men, Donne is saying something like "go soft into the night"? He's comforting her that the baby died with no sin, and that its soul and her soul are connected, "So let us melt, and make no noise, No tear-floods, no sigh-tempests move."

He also moves to talk about earthquakes and planetary motions. As the Ptolemic astronomy attributed angelic influences to the planets, Donne says that physical earthquakes are so insignificant compared to the majesty and the movement of the stars. The earth could once again represent the body, and so the actual traumas we face on Earth may seem overwhelming, but for our souls, and the planets, there is something much more vast, much more infinite that moves them.

As he compares 'our love' to the dull sublunary lover's love, the love that is shiftless and capricious to a love so refined that we don't know what it is, he surpasses the passionate physical 'lover's love' to describe the 'soul' love. The refined love that he is talking about is the parental love of the family. There is the love for the spouse, and then the unexplainable love for the child, when most of the time all it does is eat, poop, and cry. They themselves don't understand it, and yet since Donne says it's their soul being connected, it's much more than the whimsical physical attraction.

I really liked the images in this poem as well. The circle metaphors (earth, spheres meaning planets, compass, ending where I began, melt and make no noise like snow) reflect on the circle of life, the cycles of birth and death. And the line "A breach...like gold to airy thinness beat" brings to mind a golden thread which binds the two souls together, something magical and beautiful and unexplainable.

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