‘Valediction of Weeping’ by John Donne is a three stanza metaphysical poem that is separated into sets of nine lines. The lines vary greatly in length and but do follow a specific syllabic pattern. The first, fifth and sixth lines have four syllables, and the second, third, fourth, seventh and eighth have ten. The final line of every stanza stretches out to fourteen lines, as if combining the previous lengths.The rhyme scheme is less complex, it conforms to a pattern of ABBACCDDD, alternating end sounds and the poet saw fit.
‘Valediction of Weeping’ has a number of characteristics of a metaphysical poem. It is clever, makes use of extended complicated metaphors and investigates important worldly questions. These pieces of poetry also had the goal of surprising a reader with the comparison drawn by the poet. Usually these are between two very unlikely things that initially seem to have no connection.
As was common in Donne’s poetry, there are a number of these extended metaphors present. In this case, due to their complexity, they are known as conceits. The most prominent of these describes tears in powerful, worldly terms. They are spoken of in relation to the “round ball” of the earth and the seas. They are also imbued with a number of powers and features. The speaker’s own hold his listener’s image, and his listener’s tears have the power to drown him.
Donne’s speaker is completely consumed by the use of tears and their effect in the world. At first he wants to cry, and wants his listener to see him doing it. This way she will know he is grieving for their separation. Soon though, he asks that all the tears stop. They are so packed with the listener’s image and essence that their falling degrades her and therefore their love. As the poem progresses the stakes increase. By the time Donne gets to the last lines the couple’s tears have the ability to “hasten” the other’s death. If one person cries, the other will surely be caught up in the wake of those emotions and be drowned.
Before beginning this piece it is important to understand the title. This piece is not the only one of Donne’s which utilized the word “Valediction.” One of his most famous, and well-studied works, ‘Valediction Forbidding Mourning,’ is just one example. The word “valediction” is used to describe a text bidding farewell to a specific listener. In this case, the poem is addressed to a current lover from whom the speaker is soon to part.
It is thought by some that this piece was written after Donne’s secret marriage, during a period of separation. His marriage was a topic that came up frequently within his poetry, especially due to the repercussions it had on his career and subsequent short imprisonment in Fleet Prison.
Summary of Valediction of Weeping
‘Valediction of Weeping’ by John Donne describes the troubled parting, and powerful emotions, of the speaker and his current lover.
The poem begins with the speaker asking that he be allowed to cry for a moment before he parts from the listener. He wants her to see his grief and understand that he does feel very upset over their separation. In fact, his tears come from her own essence. They are created with her image in mind. The tears also represent the grief that will come in the future and the spiritual connection the two share. There is a great deal more on this topic in the next two stanzas.
In the final lines of the first stanza he tells his listener that although crying might feel like the right thing to do, tears are not helping their situation. He thinks that when tears fall they make the emotion “nothing.”
He continues on to describe the power and danger of the listener’s grief and how together their tears will bring about heaven, and then its dissolution. In the final lines he tells his listener not to drown him in her grief. She should keep from sending out the forces of her love to try to reach him as they will certainly cause his death. The poem concludes with the speaker describing how the grief of one will condemn the other to certain death. Unless, they can keep their emotions in check.
Analysis of Valediction of Weeping
Let me pour forth
My tears before thy face, whilst I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,
And by this mintage they are something worth,
For thus they be
Pregnant of thee;
Fruits of much grief they are, emblems of more,
When a tear falls, that thou falls which it bore,
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a diverse shore.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by asking his listener to allow him some tears. As is evident though the title of the poem, a parting is soon to occur. The listener is the speaker’s lover and this entire piece is directed at her. She does not have a voice in the three stanzas although the speaker does spend a great deal of time explaining the power she has over him. From these lines, mostly present in the second stanza, one can imagine the role she had in his life.
The couple has a very limited amount of time left together and so the speaker asks that he be allowed to cry “whilst” he is still there. He wants to make sure she sees his anguish. He refers to his own tears as having their source in the listener’s own face. Her visage, heart, and spiritual being “coins them” or creates them. When they roll down his cheeks they bear the “stamp” of the listener. She is the creator and subject matter of his grief. This is an example of one of the clever metaphysical conceits Donne is known for employing. He adds that it is only due to their origin, the listener’s face, that they are “something worth.” The “worth” the tears posses soon falls into question.
He continues on, speaking about the coin-tears as being “pregnant” with the listener. They are filled with her being, as if they are true spawns of her own being. The metaphor of production continues and expands. Now though, the tears are now more like fruit than they are coins. They are representative of the speaker’s current grief and are a signal that there’s a great deal more grief beneath the surface.
The listener is so much a part of the speaker’s tears that when they fall down his face, she falls too. At the same time, the tears are separating from the speaker. This changes their essence, making them worthless. They are no longer a part of him. Their future is playing out in the worthless nature of the fallen tears. Soon enough the two will be on “diverse shore[s],” separate, and therefore “nothing.”
On a round ball
A workman that hath copies by, can lay
An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,
And quickly make that, which was nothing, all;
So doth each tear
Which thee doth wear,
A globe, yea world, by that impression grow,
Till thy tears mix’d with mine do overflow
This world; by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so.
The second stanza is the most complex of the three. Here, the speaker begins by referring to “a round ball.” This is a reference to the earth, in particular, a globe created by a “workman.” It is on a smaller scale and therefore it is easy for him to “lay / An Europe, Afric, and an Asia” on its surface. The ability to create, discover and explore these places turn “nothing” into “all.” With what seems like a detour from the main point of the poem, the speaker is comparing the globe without the continents to the globe with. When the landmasses are present on the surface, the sphere has meaning. But, before they are placed, or if they are removed, they are “nothing.” This is exactly ow the speaker sees his, and the listener’s tears.
Just as the craftsman is able to build up his world with the additions of lands, the tears increase on the listener’s face. They too are like a “world” or “globe.” When they are numerous enough, they combine with the speaker’s and “overflow.” They become too much for either of them to bear, the lead to disastrous consequences for them both. The unification of their mutual tears has a greater impact than the speaker’s lone grief. They mix together, and then dissolve again. Donne’s speaker’s happiness is always on the verge of being created and destroyed.
O more than moon,
Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere,
Weep me not dead, in thine arms, but forbear
To teach the sea what it may do too soon;
Let not the wind
To do me more harm than it purposeth;
Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
Whoe’er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other’s death.
The final stanza of the poem begins with a reference to another globe, the moon. He states that his lover is “more than moon” to him. At the same time, she has powers similar to those the moon possesses. He is somewhat in fear of what she, or his love for her, will do to him. He asks her not to “Draw…up seas to drown [him] in [her] sphere.” The speaker knows that he will not survive if he is consumed by the seas or the listener’s own tears. They are too powerful.
The speaker is very much against crying by this point in the poem. He asks the listener to try not to cry as well as it will only do him harm. They should keep their tears in and she should not accidentally, or on purpose, teach the sea and wind to seek him out. These elements would also bring about his end as he travels.
It is interesting to analyze the amount of power he bequeaths the listener with. She has the ability to destroy him with a simple word to “the sea” or “the wind.” As stated above, lines such as these are the only information the reader receives about the listener as a person. Donne’s speaker’s monologue does not allow for any other voices so one must make do with what he chose to reveal about her and their dynamic.
In the final lines the speaker summarizes the main point of the previous lines. He does not believe that grief, or the expression of grief, will do either of them any good. In fact, he thinks that if one of them gives into grieving it will hasten the “other’s death.”