Study Guide

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning Spirituality

By John Donne

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Body and soul, heaven and earth—Donne was obsessed with this central contrast between the life we have to live in this goofy body (I mean, we have to put on deodorant just to keep from smelling funky), yet we feel ourselves endowed with a willful, strong, living spirit. This contrast kept Donne occupied for the better part of his career, as he bounced between poems suitable for the bedroom and poems for his pulpit. In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," Donne contrasts love that is based on the body, with a spiritual love that is able to transcend the flesh and is based on the soul.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. Why do you think Donne starts a love poem with the moment of an old man's death?
  2. Why does Donne make a point to call other lovers' love "sublunary"?
  3. Donne does not say that he and his wife are like the two feet of a compass. What does he actually say? (Hint: look at line 21.) Why might that difference be important?

Chew on This

Hop on the therapy couch, pal. Donne writes about spiritual love in this way because he is at least partially afraid of his physical body. His more promiscuous early life and writing makes him feel dirty and guilty, and so he praises anything spiritual and speaks poorly about the body.

Of course Donne has to make the argument that spirits matter more than bodies. He is about to be away from his wife's body for months. He's just trying to make himself feel better. (Think it's working?)

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