Lately, after stumbling across the Mental Multivitamin blog, I have been thinking of how much time I devote to unessential things. I waste my fair share of time, and then some, on things like video games and tv. I like those things, but I’m not sure how much they really better me. As a result, I’m trying to devote myself a little more to
scholarly (that sounds too pretentious) mind-expanding (that sounds a little too drugged out) thought-provoking pursuits. I’d like to spend more time reading, for one—and reading things beyond Entertainment Weekly.
To that end I’m hooking up with a book club and trying to read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the next month. I’m also interested in the lost art of memorizing poetry and prose. I think that would benefit not only my teaching but my life of the mind as well. Who knows whether that will happen anytime soon. If it does, though, I think I’d start with this poem. It’s one of my favorites. That John Donne knew how to write. If you’re not a poetry person, check it out anyway. There’s beauty in the language of lines like “Dull sublunary lovers’ love” even if you have a hard time deciphering the meaning.
The scene is the separation of two lovers. Donne was leaving on a governmental assignment and his wife—pregnant and ill—did not want him to leave. The resulting poem explains both true love and separation in ways that, as an aspiring writer, I could only dream of. Enjoy.
A VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING.
by John Donne
AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers' love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.
And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.