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.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
    (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
    Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refin'd,
    That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
    Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
    Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
    Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
    As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth, if the' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
    Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
    And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must
    Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
    And makes me end, where I begun.
- John Donne
This is a small essay I wrote for English on the literary conceits Donne used in his writing. As the pre-eminent metaphysical poet, Donne was a master at making surprising comparisons and metaphors, for example comparing his love to a compass used as a mathematical tool. Read on, and you'll see more...

John Donne utilizes several interesting conceits in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." In the first stanza, he talks about the way the soul leaves virtuous dying men. He compares his leaving his lover to these dying men. In the second stanza, Donne begins a conceit that stretches through most of the poem. He compares their parting to the processing of gold, first by telling of the peculiar way gold melts. In later lines, he mentions that their love is refined, much the same way gold is refined. He completes this extended image in the sixth stanza when he compares their souls to gold leaf that is able to float in the air. Another conceit intertwined throughout the poem is a comparison of the lovers to the movements of the earth. This image is begun by the mixing of lover's lamentations and nature's storms seen when Donne writes of tear-floods and sigh-tempests. He continues this metaphor when contrasting dangerous earthquakes and harmless "shudderings" of the earth. This conceit is rounded out by a line mentioning "sublunary" lovers, which refers to the idea of that time that everything under the moon was changeable and imperfect. The last conceit Milton sculpts is a very surprising comparison. He uses a compass as his beginning point, and compares two lovers to the legs. He writes that no matter how far one may travel, they are always connected in the middle and can never be completely separated. All of these conceit are very effective in helping to contribute to the meaning of the poem. Virtuous men were highly respected in that, and all, ages, and so Donne did well to compare his love with a man of virtue. Gold is such an uncommon and highly prized object of beauty, one could not help but enjoy being compared with such a fine substance that is found so rarely. The way Donne compares his love with the grand motions of the earth also helps him to celebrate his love very effectively. Finally, while the compass may seem an odd choice, Donne put it to use in such a way that he was able to create a very memorable image that works very well as a metaphor also. In the end Donne has crafted a very impressive poem about his enduring love that is greatly enhanced by his numerous literary conceits.
These are my answers to some of the questions posed for my Literature 12 class for each stanza. There is some good information in here about the poem:

Stanza One
The poet describes the transition between life and death for "virtuous men" because they are virtuous and therefore are not afraid of death. They are able to forsee their death but do not fear it, unlike the other men who are sinful. The stanza describes how the "virtuous men" pass away so gently that some of their friends doubt that they have, indeed, passed away. A ballad is used as well as alliteration and assonance to support this concept.

Stanza Two
The poet elevates his love from earthly love to spiritual love by describing how his love is sacred as well as more elevated than the love of ordinary people. More elevated than physical love.
"Twere profanation of our joys to tell the laity our love."

Stanza Three
The poet creates a metaphor of an earthquake to compare it to his love. He describes how an earthquake may bring harm and great fear, "Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears," but his love has much more meaning to it, being much more profound by describing it as the "...trepidation of the spheres".

Stanza Four
Donne describes other lovers as "sublunary" because "sublunary love" is imperfect. Sublunary means beneath the sphere of the moon thus it is love that is constantly changing. He compares their love to his love which is referenced in his first conceit - gold. Gold is the purest element and thus what elements it cannot be removed or taken away - similar to his love. He also describes how pure his love really is which could be tied in with his references to the purity of gold: "but we by a love, is so much refined". Lastly, Donne states that the presence of the lovers is "elemented" in sublunary love because the lovers must be present, otherwise their love will fade. "Absence, because it doth remove those things which elemented it".

Stanza Five
Donne mentions three body parts - eyes, lips and hands - because they are the most important body parts to sense the love in ordinary love. He is once again describing how refined his love is, and that these body parts are not needed to feel his love. These body parts are also noticed in a person's appearance, and yet again, his love is much stronger than the love of ordinary people, thus he does not care for such superficial ideals.

Stanza Six
Once again, the gold conceit is used. The poet compares his soul as well as his love to gold - describing his soul to be as precious as gold since it is considered to be one of the most precious metals. Gold is also considered to be the most noble metal thus, most difficult to destroy, much like his love. The gold conceit leads to the circle conceit because the alchemical symbol for gold was a circle with a point in the center. The circle represents purity and endlessness which once again describes his love.

Stanza Seven, Eight and Nine
"They" refers to the lover's souls and the metaphysical conceit used here is the compass. The compass describes the love of the two lovers (notice how repetitive this whole poem seems to be). Because the compass draws a circle, their love is much like a circle - pure and endless. The points of a compass joins together meaning that when the lovers are together, they have an emotional buildup of expectation and joy. "And grows erect, as that comes home".

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.