Donne (1633) One of John Donne's more famous poems, "A Valediction: Of Weeping," resembles other of his works in its use of the style of metaphysical poets
AND POETRY, FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE (FIGURE OF SPEECH), clear logic, and focus on balance. It also suggests a blend of the sacred and the profane with the inclusion in its title of the term Valediction, normally associated with the conclusion of a religious service. Donne draws on his naturally skeptical nature and inflated ego to address the act of weeping, common to parting lovers. He also adopts the traditional association of love with death, inherited from the biblical book Song of Solomon. His speaker basically explains to his beloved that tears afford danger, in that one of the lovers might drown.
While such a simplistic explanation of his message reduces it to a humorous exaggeration, Donne refines the theme through his application of poetic format that reflects his passion. That form includes three stanzas, each composed of nine lines. The first, fifth, and sixth lines in each stanza align with the center of the page, calling special attention to their message and their rhymes, with their meter iambic dimeter. All other lines are in iambic pentameter except the final line, which adds one beat in iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme is abbaccddd, momentum interrupted by each midstanza centered couplet. Donne did not often call such attention to his poems' position on the page. It results in a formal effect that seems at first glance inappropriate to its subject.
The speaker begins in a short, centered line, "Let me pour forth," adopting language reminiscent of biblical terminology. Donne might have written simply "let me cry," but the effect would have been greatly reduced. In simple one-syllable words Donne signals his reader that his idea of grief at parting is greater than that represented by a few tears. enjambment carries the reader into line 2 with no hesitation on the term forth, moving directly into "My tears before thy face whilst I stay here." Donne chooses not to have the speaker refer to his own face first, but instead that of his lover as they stand face to face. This prepares readers for the later Platonic suggestion that the two lovers constitute parts of one continuous whole and perfect union.
The established close position of the speaker and his love allows the reader an image supportive of the next lines. The speaker notes that his own tears reflect his lover's face, "thy face coins them," and that affords the tears value, "And by this mintage they are something worth." Their worth is that they are "Pregnant of thee." Donne shifts to a new metaphor by referring to the tears as "Fruits of much grief," suggesting their careful cultivation. He also reflects on the pregnancy metaphor, as fruit of the loins referred to a man's child. He concludes by noting that when his tears fall, containing his love within them, "Thou falls which it bore," further extending the idea of birth through the verb bore. Donne offers a strong metaphysical conceit, verging on the absurd, in suggesting that the woman he loves exists in a tear and, moreover, that he, the male, might carry her in pregnancy. However, his extension of that conceit through the following stanzas leads the reader to accept it. He concludes the first stanza with the speaker's noting that when separated "on a diverse shore," "thou and I are nothing then."
The second stanza begins with an image of a grand effect that arises from what at first glance appears to be nothing important:
A workman that hath copies by can lay
An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,
And quickly make that, which was nothing, all.
Donne adopts the traditional "man as microcosm" view present since classic times and discussed in Sir Walter Raleigh's "That Man Is as it Were, a Little World." His speaker envisions even a smaller microcosm, a whole world in the tiny expanse of a teardrop. He makes that suggestion concrete by asking the reader to envision the construction of a globe. Although only a representation of a world, the globe helps prove Donne's logic. In addition he reflects back on the pregnancy metaphor, as a human being, God's greatest creation, seems to assemble from nothing. His speaker then can compare that assembling of the globe to "each tear / Which thee doth wear, / A globe, yea world, by that impression grow."
The speaker expands his argument by concluding that when the lovers' tears mix, so great is their volume that they "do overflow / This world; by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so." Donne adopts the Ptolemaic view of the universe as overlapping concentric circles, the circle of heaven crossing that of Earth and its waters. He also recalls the creation story from the biblical book of Genesis, in which God first covers the earth with waters, which eventually withdraw to reveal the land. Donne's imagery works in reverse. The lover's immense passion allows her to cover the earth with water that will reach even up to heaven.
By the final verse the speaker has reached the climax of his plea. He begins with the call to his lover, "o more than moon," employing the moon as a traditional symbol of woman. He frames his plea as a matter of life and death, asking her,
Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere; Weep me not dead in thine arms, but forbear To teach the sea what it may do too soon.
Donne employs the imagery of the male sphere within that of the female, an approach he also takes in "Air and Angels." The personified ocean can learn from the lovers, in the view of the confident speaker, to resist destructive behavior. The final two short centered lines read, "Let not the wind / Example find," including now in earth, water, and wind all of the natural elements needed for creation except fire, which is suggested by the lovers' passion. The two enjambed lines continue without break into those that follow, so that if read as intended, the passage runs, "Let not the wind example find / To do me more harm than it pur-poseth." Again the speaker equates his lover's weeping with the most destructive forces on earth, deadly in their effects. He concludes with the Platonic idea that two true hearts may exist as one: "Since thou and I sigh one another's breath, / Whoe'er sighs most is cruelest, and hastes the other's death." He has offered an image of balance through allusions to creation and destruction, life and death.
The scholar Susannah Mintz interprets Donne's focus on tears as his production of a space in which gender differences may disappear. She sees the teardrop's fragile membrane as imitating "the edges between people that Donne is always testing." Its close connection with emotion and the fact that it flows from the inside out symbolize its ability to shatter boundaries. He suggests the dissolution of one boundary in the pregnancy metaphor, as in this case the pregnant male offers a gender role reversal of interest to both feminist and psychoanalytic critics. The tears physically intermingle, his becoming hers and vice versa, supporting concretely the abstract Platonic suggestion that the two lovers achieve perfection in becoming one being.
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