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Modern Poems - Book Report/Review Example

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John Donne's Valediction: Forbidding Mourning and Andrew Marvell's The Definition of Love both make extensive use of the metaphysical conceit, "a comparison, often elaborate, extended, or startling, between objects which are apparently dissimilar" (Beckson and Ganz 45)…
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Modern Poems

Download file to see previous pages... Exploiting the duality between spiritual love has a Neoplatonic cast in the early seventeenth century when the dominant philosophy was still that of the Renaissance rather than that of the Enlightenment (Yates). Marvell undoubtedly reacts to Donne's work, perhaps in a satirical fashion.
Smith, in the notes to his edition of Donne (405), refers to the 1640 biography of the poet by Izaak Walton the claim that Donne wrote the Valediction as addressed to his wife on the occasion of a trip to France in 1611 that enforced a lengthy separation of the couple, though without giving the account much probability. In any case, it was occasioned by some kind of parting, as the title Valediction demonstrates. But the poem does not merely address that or any particular relationship so much as treating love in the broadest terms. The first stanza begins a lengthy metaphor describing how the soul may leave the body at death with such subtlety that those in attendance on the sick bed cannot tell at what moment life ended. In the second stanza, Donne advises his lover to show no more outward sign of the interrupted course of their love than that undetectable change between life and death. Donne refers to those who are insufficiently subtle to notice such a distinction as the "laity" (l. 8). This metaphor casts their love as a religious secret known only to the lovers as its priesthood, which would be profaned if outwardly revealed by signs of mourning at the absence of the beloved.
The third stanza makes clear the relationship between the lesser and the greater of the two terms of the simile between the detection of death and love. Death is like an earthquake, publicly bewailed and queried as an omen. But love is like the infinitely greater movement of the heavenly sphere which the public does not search for meaning. This is a very difficult passage. In view of the prevailing belief in astrology in Donne's lifetime (Shumaker 1-41), one might rather expect the stars to be looked to as bringers of "harms and fears" (l. 9), to have their meaning reckoned, and to be anything but innocent. However much Christianity or rational skepticism might deny the validity of divination, the motion of the stars and particularly astrology, were far more prominent than earthquakes as evil portents in the popular imagination and in literary tradition. Donne makes earthquakes the subject of interrogation for meaning, a very clear acceptance of their status as omina within a system of divination. So why are the planetary spheres and their system of astrology different; how are they 'innocent" (l. 12) Given the early date of Donne's life, one can hardly appeal to the new astronomical science of Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo that slowly separated astronomy from astrology, as the basis of Donne's conceit. The only way out seems to be an appeal to skepticism about astrology prominent in influential ancient authors like Cicero (On Divination 2.41.87-47.99) and Augustine (Confessions, 4.3.4; 7.5.7-7.11). In this case Donne's conceit could be that disbelief is more refined than the common belief, and skepticism stands for the secret wisdom of Donne's love. Or, perhaps the point is that profane love is no more like spiritual love than an earthquake is like celestial mechanics.
In the fourth and fifth stanzas (ll. 13-20), Donne ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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