This is one of those poems you see so often it feels like cheating to post it, but I love it so much I don’t care. A word of geeky explanation (I was so excited when I learned this in history class and was able to connect it back to the poem!): the metaphors in the third and fourth verse in particular come from the old idea that the earth was at the center of the universe, and the sun, moon, planets, and each star were set in rotating crystalline spheres around it. These spheres were made, not of earth, air, fire, or water, but of a fifth, perfect element called simply “quintessence.” So everything “sublunary,” or below the moon, was physical and terrestrial, while everything past it was celestial.
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,
“The breath goes now,” 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
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we, by a love so much refin’d
That our selves 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 fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do;
And though it in the center 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.