Commentary on Valediction: of Weeping

Donne is leaving England by sea. He talks in the final stanza of the possibility of actual storms on his voyage. So the image of water comes very naturally to him. Too much water is a dangerous thing, and he applies this to the water of tears caused by overmuch weeping. He brilliantly uses three conceits to reason the need not to cry too much.

The first conceit

The first conceit, in the first stanza, is of tears as coins and fruit.

  • Donne uses the parallel of coins being stamped with someone's face (here, the sovereign's) to give them validity, to tears being stamped with the beloved's face
  • He reaches this parallel by using the conventional Elizabethan idea of tears mirroring or reflecting the face of the beloved
  • So ‘by this Mintage they are something worth'. Tears are precious
  • They are also ‘Fruits of much griefe', since their shape looks like fruit, and also like the womb of a pregnant woman
  • The combining of the two conceits (of coins and fruit) leads to the paradox:
When a tear falls, that thou falst which it bore
  • The real point emerges in l.9:

So thou and I are nothing then, when on a diverse [different] shore

since the tears cannot reflect each other then and so have no validity. This becomes the source of existential angst for the poet – concern about whether the lovers continue to exist once apart.

The second conceit

Copyright to Cartography Associates, available through Creative CommonsIn the second stanza, the conceit is of tears as worlds or globes, again picturing them as round.

  • This conceit takes up the idea of all and nothing. In Donne's day, a globe was typically a sphere covered by leather cut to the shapes of the various continents and seas
  • His beloved's reflected image in his tears becomes his world
  • He then moves the conceit forward by thinking of her tears as well. Her tears fall on his, and so her tears are like a deluge from heaven drowning his world – a second flood
  • The story of Noah's flood stands behind the text here, especially Genesis 7:11 (‘the floodgates of the heavens were opened' NIV). So the stanza ends in dissolution, too.

The third conceit

The third stanza uses the conceit of tears as tides and seas.

  • Donne's beloved is the moon, since it is the moon that draws up the tidal force of the sea
  • She is ‘more than Moone' since she not only draws up the tides, but drowns the land.
  • He climaxes with the wonderful phrase ‘Weepe me not dead, in thy armes ...'. This is how destructive weeping really is
  • He sees it, too, as an ‘emblem' (l.7) of the real storm surge that he could be experiencing. An emblem is a sign of something
  • Having mentioned the idea of a storm, he concludes with the other feature of lovers' grief, sighs, which, appropriately, are symbols of high winds
  • So the final argument against grieving is that it could well be an omen of a real disaster: an invitation to fate. ‘Hasts' here is the older spelling for ‘hastes'.

Investigating the three conceits in Valediction: of Weeping
  • Compare Donne's use of tears in A Valediction: of Weeping with their use in his Twicknam Garden.
    • At what point in A Valediction: of Weeping does Donne actually start arguing against any more tears?
  • Compare and contrast the way Donne uses the imagery of sighs in Song: ‘Sweetest love, I do not go' and A Valediction: of Weeping.
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