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    A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning and Love III

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    A comparative essay, discussing the conflict between sin and grace in the poetry of John Donne (A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning) and George Herbert (Love III).

    The solution entails a critical appraisal of both poems, followed by a cross examination geared towards exploring the similarities between the two poems as well as their authors. The answer goes on to illustrate a few examples of the similarities while also referencing material that might allow the student to identify other points of similarities.

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    SOLUTION This solution is FREE courtesy of BrainMass!

    To help you with essay we should primarily explore a general interpretation of the two poems in question, which should provide some food for thought towards forming a good critical essay on the topic of conflict between sin and grace, seeing as the theme does emerge in the two poems, even if a bit fragmented in John Donne's Valediction of Forbidding Mourning.

    Please take note of the discussions at the close of these interpretations, for each poem, as they will be used to address the topic of your essay.

    Poem: Valediction of Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

    The opening verse deals with the loss of a cherished individual, expressed with both denial and acceptance by his congress of friends and acquaintances.

    The following verse, expresses a humble and self-contained sense of grief that shouldn't outright betray the sheer attachment the mourners (laity) have to the person who has passed away, while also sheltering any potential joy they might have in knowing that such a virtuous man is surely headed to a better place. In this way it is hoped that the mourners remain graceful in how they reconcile with and express such a sense of loss and grief.

    The next verse deals with the core of the topic of how this is actually a poem about two lovers parting ways as the poet pays homage to being parted from his significant other and even likens this loss to the loss in death for consolation of his partner. Beneath the spiritual and collective metaphors, there is an expression in this verse where the narrator is attempting to move past the sense of loss by asserting that their love exists between their souls and that such a love cannot be constricted by physical proximity (Line 15: Of absence cause it doth remove the thing which elemented it). This seems to be a powerful reference to a vacant vessel now void of soul, which also makes it void of the love that was once shared; a love that they will continue to share despite being parted so far.

    Love transcends the very basic human comprehension in many ways, especially the physical; this seems to be the mantra in the follow-up verse that only lends support to the prior stanza. The use of repetitive assonance (the rhyming of vowel sounds, in this case, "s") in line 20 could be said to reaffirm the value of the soul with regards to their love.

    This poem is essentially an ode by the poet to the metaphysicality of his love and a case for graceful remembrance at a time of trial and tribulation when the lovers are at physical separation; the soul is celebrated as the humbling and constant reminder of their bond that trumps any sense of physical longing. It essentially forbids mourning on grounds that love transcends the physical and that their love can therefore, never be separated, bur rather, strengthened through such a trial. One can use this poem to do a lengthy critical commentary on the topics of grace and metaphysics.

    Discussion: In Valediction of Forbidding Mourning, John Donne presents love as a complex quandary that requires transcendence on the parts of those that share bonds of such magnitude. The lovers are compelled to look beyond their physical connection and thus, the sense of lust "the sin" and define their love on a spiritual level where grace and self-restraint is required to accept physical parting without denouncing or demarking the spiritual value of their love. This presents a conflict between the sin of physical desires that often become entwined in love, against the grace of spiritual faithfulness that should be the real backbone of such a love.

    Poem: Love (III) by George Herbert

    In George Herbert's Love (III), the opening is about the subject of man's corruption and indignation in the presence of God; a questioning of his own worthiness in the presence of something higher or greater given his transgressions and the underlying shame. In this poem, this mysterious entity is referred to as a very powerful and creating force known as Love, but this could arguably be a potent metaphor for God. This is also supported by the idea that in the second line of the first stanza there is a phrase that reads, "guilty of dust and sin," which could be a strong Biblical reference to the creation of the first man, Adam, who was created from dust.

    The first stanza opens with an almost savouring yet guilt-stricken description of a man entering a woman's presence with considerable reticence on his part; it is almost sexualised, which is a another reflection on the topic if sin. The sheer self-awareness of shame on his behalf is painted quite vividly for the reader as he enters into the presence of "Love," which can be seen as God.

    His expression of feeling unworthy since entering can be an allegorical description of his life or the idea of being born unworthy, which is expressed in this gloomy yet transcendent metaphor of being in Love's company (i.e. God's presence).

    God assures the person that he shall be worthy, but the person is incredulous to the pronouncement and feels that he should be accountable for his shame that prevents him from even laying his eyes upon God. This is highlighted in the stanza where God (as Love) attempts to guide the man by hand while revealing to the man that he created those very eyes so there is little purpose in hiding them. Yet the man responds with acknowledgement of the truth while still expressing the fact that despite all that has been acknowledged, his eyes have been marred through sin, which prevents him from gazing upon God and instead requesting that they be allowed to go where they deserve; to be cast down or looked away for they are unworthy to look upon such Godly sight.

    In the final stanza, Love/God finally questions past the person's shame by reminding him that his blame has already been absolved, which is a reference to Jesus Christ's sacrifice for humanity's collective atonement. This finally defeats the man's resistance as he accepts his fate and the greater Godly wisdom that accompanies such revelation, proceeding to follow his words, although his internal hesitance and shame go unaddressed (we don't know whether he feels atoned but he most certainly agrees to serve by joining in Love's feast). One could take this entering into a meal together as acceptance.

    Discussion: In Love (III), Herbert depicts man as sinful and helpless before the presence of divine greatness. A guilty and sinful man is often left here in a state of utmost dependence on receiving salvation from God's grace. A conflict of sin and grace can be found here as the man in this poem seems to have a hard time accepting God's grace in light of the acute awareness of his own sins and sense of worthlessness. This poem does well to highlight such a conflict between grace and sin, which is probably precipitated by the somewhat liberal and secularly bold metaphysical approach taken on by George Herbert.

    Both grace and sin seem intertwined as one could not work as effectively without the other. Without sin there would be no salvation to give and we have this noble concept of grace that would not be so beautiful if we were not the mere sinful mortals depicted by Herbert.

    Some important stanzas from the poems that support the topic would be the following:

    For Donne's A Valediction Forbidding Mourning -

    1. "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."

    2. "But we by a love so much refined
    That our selves know not what it is,
    Inter-assured of the mind,
    Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss."

    3. "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."

    For George Herbert's Love (III) (This is a short poem with every stanza being quite supportive, but to just cover the direct references to sin and grace, I would suggest the following parts) -

    1. "Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin."

    2. ""A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
    Love said, "You shall be he."
    "I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
    I cannot look on thee."
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    "Who made the eyes but I?""

    3. ""Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve."
    "And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
    "My dear, then I will serve.""

    On the topic of external sources, there are quite a few books on metaphysical poetry that deal with the works of Donne and Herbert, since their contributions hold a distinguished place in such a paradigm.

    For critical commentary on Donne's works, there's a book called Theoretically-informed criticism of Donne's love poetry: towards a pluralist hermeneutics of faith by David Buck Beliles. Another book that I can recommend is The Poems of John Donne (Longman Annotated English Poets), by Robin Robbins, which contains some very good notes.


    Beliles, D. B. (1999). Theoretically-informed criticism of Donne's love poetry: Towards a pluralist hermeneutics of faith. New York: P. Lang.

    Donne, J., & Robbins, R. H. (2010). The poems of John Donne: Epigrams, verse letters to friends, love-lyrics, love-elegies, satire, religion poems, wedding celebrations, verse epistles to patronesses, commemorations and anniversaries. Harlow, England: Longman.

    For George Herbert's Love III, there's Patterns and Patterning: A Study of Four Poems by George Herbert; authored by Bart Westerweel. This provides an interesting take on the poem and even addresses the topic of how the poem is sexualised at some levels. I believe you can even preview the critical commentary page on Love III using Google Books (Link: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yM05zZwgInkC&q=216#v=snippet&q=216&f=false).


    Westerweel, B. (1984). A Study of Love (III). In Patterns and patterning: A study of four poems by George Herbert (216th ed.). Amsterdam: Rodopi.

    Factoring in the above-mentioned sources, one should not have a hard time drawing more ideas for their own interpretation and also express informed agreement or disagreement in the form of commentary about the ideas that these sources provide.

    A brief passing comment can also be made about the underlying aspect of love as a catalyst in driving the conflict between sin and grace in both poems. In the case of John Donne's, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, it's the poet urging for love to transcend into the metaphysical against the backdrop of a conflict created between love being hinged by physical desires with a need to be celebrated as a graceful spiritual bond. In the case of George Herbert's, Love III, it's the narrator's overpowering love for God that makes him all the more unable to overcome the guilt of his own sinful nature and thus, wilfully accept the grace and forgiveness of God.

    As you can see, interpretations can be made to identify both the concepts of sin and grace in the two poems. Further interpretation reveals a conflict that exists between the two. When it comes to literature and poetry, most interpretations can be considered valid so long as they are consistent in their analysis and the identified themes that they discuss. With the case of these two poems, the interpretations that have been offered have been reasonable consistent and in line with the identified themes.

    Therefore, it is highly advisable that you take the contents of this response and also read through these poems and look for other forms of interpretation where possible to help diversify your own perspective. As you will find, even by the nature and size of this response, using the themes identified by the interpretations of these two poems - as well as the discussions on conflict between sin and grace and parts of the interpretations themselves - an interesting and robust discussion/essay can be made on the topic.

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