Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Final Reassurance

In John Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”, the speaker tries to comfort his lover as he lays dying. He begins in broad terms, introducing the concept of death as well as describing normal people’s reactions to traumatic events, preparing the proper mindset in order to get to the heart of the matter in the second half of the poem. This way of easing into the topic of mortality gives his audience time to guess at what is to come and lessens the shock of simply stating “I am going to die”.

Further means to assuage the fears of his lover are apparent in the organization of the poem, with steady quatrains slowly and deliberately completing individual thoughts. Each four line stanza is divided into two line segments, made distinct syntactically through use of spacing before each second line. In the first couplet, Donne introduces an idea, often one of apprehension, then in the second he answers it with reassurance. Additionally, the ABAB rhyme scheme is very traditional and unsurprising, and lends itself to the simple nature of his assertions. This methodical nature is calming, as opposed to erratic lines, starting and stopping, expressing disjointed thoughts.

By distinguishing himself and his lover as separate from normal people, with love unlike a conventional love, the speaker also works to prevent comparison with past tragedies that his lover has witnessed through friends or family. Thus, since he argues that their situation is different, she need not suffer the same agony that she has previously seen. This separation from convention puts less of a burden on the one left behind, as she will not feel as much obligation to mourn.

Perhaps the clearest attempts to console in the poem come in the form of similes demonstrating their everlasting connection. In this view, those that are parted will soon be reunited, so in the meantime one retains hope and not a sense of finality. Unfortunately, however, this may backfire, as many would not be put at ease hearing that they will soon follow a dying man.

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