Language and tone in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

A gentle beginning

The voice at the beginning seems very gentle:

  • ‘passe mildly'

  • ‘whisper'

  • ‘sad'

are soft sounds, and are in great contrast to the typical bluster at the beginning of a Donne poem. Only Since she whom I lov'd, one of the Holy Sonnets written at the time of his wife's death, has as gentle an opening.

A stronger voice

By stanza five, however, Donne's dialectical voice has taken over, with ‘But we ...', not stridently, but as in The Extasie, pursuing a metaphysical line of thought. ‘Inter-assured' is an interesting word here. Donne adds the prefix ‘inter-' to several significant words in other poems, such as ‘interinanimates' in The Extasie, trying to re-enforce the sense of the lovers' mutuality. A little list, again typical of Donne, follows:

  • ‘eyes'

  • ‘lips'

  • ‘and hands'.

An innuendo?

It should be noted that, in the final conceit, the term ‘erect' did not have quite the sexual connotation it does today, so we cannot claim it as a sexual innuendo. The Elizabethans talked, for example, about the ‘erect wit', meaning ‘alert'. In fact, it is the feminine arm of the compass that becomes erect as the male moves back towards her: she becomes alert again, hopeful, to provide, Donne would like to think, a suitable home-coming.

Investigating Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
  • Have you found A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning easier to understand than other poems by Donne?
    • If so, why do you think this might be so?
      • Is it the subject matter or the language?
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