What is the theme of "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"?


Quick Answer

The theme of John Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” is the unity of kindred souls. Written for his wife Anne, the poem is an apology for his extended absence during a long trip to Europe. One of the metaphysical poets, Donne addresses the fundamental nature of their marriage.

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Full Answer

Part literary trope and part social spectacle, the tearful good-bye was traditional in 17th-century society. Making a great deal of parting was considered fashionable because travel was unsafe, and an accident or illness on the road might prove fatal. However, Donne rejects both fashion and tradition by first entreating his wife to “let us melt, and make no noise, / No tear-floods, / nor sigh-tempests move.” Equating parting with death is something “dull sublunary lovers” do, not a married couple secure in their true love.

He uses the conceit of a drafting compass describe their union – twin souls inextricably linked – to assure her that their marriage is sound in spite of parting. Just as the legs of the compass work together to draw a circle – she staying put and he traveling around Europe – their souls lean together as the compass moves. He assures her that "Thy firmness makes my circle just” and that he will return.

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