—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it” (Donne).
It is the very nature of the metaphysical conceit: to remove itself from the world of the tangible yet project an image far more moving than its literal counterpart. It is to go above and beyond the world of the immediate, to transcend the physical and stay bound to its origin, its comparison, while floating in the dreamy ether. The quote featured above serves as an accurate catch-all for what threads compose the complex weave of conceit: purely earthly knowledge, pure reason and sense, cannot understand what, its own, physical body is not present. Though weathering considerable assails for its use—mocked for being esoterically confusing and flowery—John Donne, was a notable figure among the seventeenth century metaphysical poets. Of the many poems of John Donne, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning affords a rich array of metaphysical conceit, attesting to the depth and beauty which immortalized Donne as a literary giant.
The poem, on the surface, is an incredible story of unconquerable love. This poem, as well, operates on two different levels: it establishes the circumstances, metaphorically speaking, which the love and his lover are in while rebelling against the absolute definitiveness of death. It would seem the two lovers depicted in this lament are forced apart. The speaker, however, obstinately asserts that though the two lovers are separate by physical distance “they are two so, as stiff twin compasses are two” (Donne). The two legs of the compass represent the two lovers. They are as one, conjoined by a central focus just as the two legs of a compass meet; that joint by which they a...
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... what extremes it reaches. He must, then, use the actions of an ordinary compass in place of words to materialize his love’s necessity. Though a commonplace object, the structure of the compass expresses that he and his lover will never be apart from one another because they are bound by some ethereal hinge which pulls and sways them—two separate legs—despite the distance. Consequently, he tells his lover not to repine at the other’s loss loudly, despite an indefinite severance. His reasoning is that their loss is like a Christian funeral: they may lament, but its pure substance, that which is not subject to death, its soul, is everlasting and going to a much better place.
Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 1275-276. Print.
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