Sunday, November 7, 2010


The poem A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning was written practically at the same time, when the poet was about to leave for a visit to a foreign country. The poet wants to tell his wife to take this temporary separation in her stride and neither to lament or weep, for after all, this will only disturb the peace of mind of both staying at different places. How to take a separation with tears or sighs or with patience and resignation, this is the theme of the poem. Playing on the image of floods and tides, the poet ultimately comes to the conclusion that mutual understanding and forebearance are necessary, for romantic lamenting and sighing will only increase their sorrow and frustration.

In the beginning, the poet wants to weep out his heart—just to give an outlet to his pent-up feeling for his wife—because he is going out and this separation is intolerable. Of course, the poet’s wife is as unhappy as the poet himself at the prospect of separation and loneliness. The poet’s tears are worth something because they bear his wife’s stamp—”thy face coins, them,” but with copious tears, the two are reduced to nothing. It is therefore better that they should weep no more.
The poet compares the tear to a globe and the tears shed by his wife will overflow the world. His tears combined with hers, will cause a deluge and much unhappiness. In fact, the deluge will destroy both of them though they never intended that both of them should die thus
Tides and storms
The poet’s wife, like the moon, is capable of causing high tides capable of drowning the poet. Similarly, her sighs are powerful enough to cause sea-storms which may hasten his death. So at the end, the poet suggests that they should desist from sighing ‘one another’s death’ because it would be mutually destructive. The poet feels that weeping at the time of separation is natural, but it has to be reduced to the minimum because it will destroy the peace of mind of both of them.
There is an organic development of imagery. One image leads to the other. For example the tear is first compared to a coin and this leads to the ‘stamp’, and the ‘mint’ and the ‘sovereign’ and the ‘worth’. The tear is round like a globe; the globe has a number of continents; their profuse tears will drown the creation, the universe and thereby destroy it like the Deluge. The beloved is like the moon. She will cause ‘tides’ and ‘storms’ and subsequent ‘death’. All these images are interlinked, and convey a sense of unified sensibility. There is another image of round and ‘pregnant’ tears. The tears are round and large like pregnancy, because they hold a reflection of the beloved inside them. Similarly, the falling of tears indicates the falling of the beloved, and thus being reduced to ‘nothing’. The poet draws images from geography, theology and astronomy. Even so he does not lose his grip on reality. The situation of the impending separation is faced boldly and the need of poise and patience is stressed. William Empson writes in this connection: “Its passion exhausts itself; it achieves at the end the sense of reality he was looking for, and for some calm of mind.”

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