The use of metaphysical conceit in John Donne’s poem A Valediction Forbidding Mourning
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John Donne was renowned for his use of metaphysical conceit in his poems to convey thoughts through imagery and alternate objects. This article focuses on the numerous aspects of conceits in the poem “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, and how they help to communicate meanings using the poignant metaphors. When it comes to metaphysical conceit, there is a need to realize the relations between the illustrated imagery and the thought of the poet. Jack D. (1990) suggested the purpose of metaphysical conceit being to communicate thoughts of exploring experience and achieving new insights into the regarded experience. The usage of unusual comparison to and unlikely metaphors are, in John Donne’s work, playing a crucial part in reflecting his thoughts. In the poem “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, John Donne applied metaphysical conceit in pacifying her lover and justifying the love between himself and the lover. The title, a valediction, is itself the first conceit in the poem.
John Donne related the death of his lover to the passing away of a virtuous man. Such a separation cannot be superseded by their spiritual attachment. While love was, generally, associated with physicality and sexual desire, John Donne’s love was religious. Such an unlikely metaphor simply describes the sanctity of the bonding with his wife. An alienation of perspective towards love and death could be read from the first stanza, “And whisper to their souls to go, whilst some of their sad friends do say, yes, the breath goes now, and some say, “No”. John Donne was surrounded by a group of mourners who thought that souls would be separated from human body and be “whispered” to leave our world, bringing all the love away.
John Donne, claiming some other people say “no”, introduced his idea of the divine and heavenly relationship with his lover, resembling that of a “virtuous man” to God. A second conceit comes with the “trepidation of the sphere” in the third stanza. John Donne continues to describe the sanctity his love with his lover by relating mundane perspective to death to earthquakes The general people were scared of death as much as earthquake and trembling of the Earth, able to bring away all their affections away from the world. But John Donne’s love was mightier than such a powerful force that splits the Earth. A dual application of contrary is applied here to assure his love: There is a comparison between the public fear of earthquake and his indifference to such a disaster, signifying other people’s ignorance of his love of purity.
Meanwhile, by relating earth splits to the might of his love, the powerful earth splits became harmless, into nothing as “trepidation of the sphere”. By taking earthquakes into account, John Donne portrays the most powerful disaster that splits everything on Earth and brings about fear. Such a portrait was reduced to such an ordinary natural phenomenon. With the illustrated imagery of disaster, the invincibility of his love was enhanced and intensified to a larger extent.
John Donne made use of two more conceits to portray his love till the end of the poem. In the seventh stanza, the poet applied a metaphor of a compass to symbolize his relationship with his lover. While there are two souls attached to each other, John Donne created an imagery resembling the two souls to be two “stiff” legs of a compass. The two legs are pointing to opposite directions, but permanently linked to one another. He compares his wife with “the fix’d foot” around which the compass rotates. The poet suggests that he would be separated from his lover as opposite directions naturally diverse. But with the mighty power of love he possesses, his heart still leans towards his lover. The two are linked together emotionally and even physically as the two legs of a compass are. Compass serves as another metaphysical conceit in the poem, suggesting the death and leaving of his wife was as irresistible as the magnetic force on Earth. But the mightier force of their love was indifferent to such a force, keeping the two souls linked together.
The last conceit goes with the process of beating gold as the lovers leaving each other. John Donne suggested that her wife’s death would only breach their relationship to a higher degree. While other people consider death as the end of relationship, the poet describes the leaving as the process of intensifying their relationship, as he writes, “a breach, but an expansion,”. He resembles his lover’s death with airily beating gold, a necessary process to make the material a thin and unbroken sheet. With the imagery of gold, being graceful and valuable in nature, the poet’s love with her wife proceeds to a higher stage after her death. The mighty force of their attachment supersedes not only distance and magnetic force, but also life and death.
With the use of metaphysical conceit, John Donne actualizes his arguments and affections to his wife by substantial images and consoles his wife. With their everlasting attachment with each other, John Donne suggests they will reunite soon with an enhanced and purified love.
Jack Dalglish, (1990). Eight Metaphysical Poets. London, Heinemann, Heinemann