A commentary on Donne’s great poem of farewell
One of the great ‘goodbye’ poems in the English language, ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ is, in a sense, not a farewell poem at all, since Donne’s speaker reassures his addressee that their parting is no ‘goodbye’, not really. The occasion of the poem was a real one – at least according to Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler and friend of Donne’s, who recorded that Donne wrote ‘A Valediction’ for his wife when he went to the Continent in 1611. Anyway, before we proceed to an analysis of the poem, here’s a reminder of it.
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
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. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a short Eliot poem
‘Cousin Nancy’ appeared in T. S. Eliot’s first volume of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917. It is one of a series of poems included in the volume which satirise and analyse the stuffiness of New England society – in this case, by contrasting the thoroughly ‘modern’ Cousin Nancy with the more traditional attitudes of those around her. You can read ‘Cousin Nancy’ here.
‘Cousin Nancy’ describes the young woman of the title. There we come to our first problem. What evidence is there that she is young? Well, she is ‘Miss Nancy Ellicott’, but middle-aged and elderly women can be unmarried, too. Or is it the fact that her aunts are mentioned, thus making her seem younger? Or the fact that she is described doing very active things – striding across the New England hills, riding a horse across the hills, dancing the ‘modern dances’? A combination of these things, it would seem. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of Shakespeare’s 51st sonnet
‘Thus can my love excuse the slow offence / Of my dull bearer when from thee I speed’: Sonnet 51 is very much a continuation or Shakespeare’s 50th sonnet, which focused on the journey Shakespeare made away from his friend and beloved, the Fair Youth.
Thus can my love excuse the slow offence
Of my dull bearer when from thee I speed:
From where thou art why should I haste me thence?
Till I return, of posting is no need.
O! what excuse will my poor beast then find,
When swift extremity can seem but slow?
Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind,
In winged speed no motion shall I know,
Then can no horse with my desire keep pace.
Therefore desire, (of perfect’st love being made)
Shall neigh, no dull flesh, in his fiery race;
But love, for love, thus shall excuse my jade,
Since from thee going, he went wilful-slow,
Towards thee I’ll run, and give him leave to go.
Sonnet 51 poses a challenge for the critic or commentator concerning the second word of the 11th line; but we’ll come on that curious debate. First, a brief paraphrase of this ‘sequel’ to Sonnet 50: ‘The love I feel for you can overlook the slowness with which my horse travels, since neither he nor I wish to be journeying away from you; why should I seek to speed away from where you are? Read the rest of this entry