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A Short Analysis of John Donne’s ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’

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

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The Best Poems about Holidays

The greatest poems about vacations

Holidays can be a time for the family to spend time together, a time to get away from it all. Poets aren’t naturally drawn to happy times as a fit subject for poetry, but nevertheless they have occasionally treated the subject of holidays and vacations – whether the Christmas holidays, or summer holidays. Here are six of the very best holiday poems.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ‘Holidays’. This sonnet by the author of ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ reminds us of the etymology of the word ‘holiday’ as ‘holy day’. The ‘holiest’ of holidays are the ones we keep by ourselves, the ‘secret anniversaries of the heart’. Holidays, then, are less about going away somewhere different and having fun, and more a state of mind, a feeling, an act of remembrance and self-discovery. This holiday poem, then, is a world away from the image of the family by the seaside with a bucket and spade – it’s about an inner peace that holiday time can bring. ‘The holiest of all holidays are those / Kept by ourselves in silence and apart; / The secret anniversaries of the heart…’ Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Cousin Nancy’

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