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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


A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 51: ‘Thus can my love excuse the slow offence’

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

A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 50: ‘How heavy do I journey on the way’

A summary of Shakespeare’s 50th sonnet

And so we come to the 50th sonnet in Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 sonnets. In this poem, Shakespeare describes a journey on horseback in which he travels away from his beloved. From the sonnet’s second word, ‘heavy’, onwards, the language of Sonnet 50 invites close analysis as the emotion joins with the physical in a fine example of pathetic fallacy.

How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek, my weary travel’s end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
‘Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!’
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider lov’d not speed being made from thee.
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on,
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind,
My grief lies onward, and my joy behind.

First, a brief paraphrase of Sonnet 50: ‘How wearily and miserably do I travel when my destination, as it comes into view, only reminds me of how far I have travelled away from my friend. My horse, tired of bearing such a miserable rider, plods along slowly and dully, bearing both my physical weight and the misery that weighs me down Read the rest of this entry