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.
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 ...
A bit of common background between the two poets; both John Donne and George Herbert were 17th century metaphysical and transcendent poets. They were both priests by occupation and poets by craft and artistic outlet. However, where they diverge is in how Herbert's works were much more secular and metaphorical in their approach to the topic of his poetries subjects rather quaint relationship and interaction with the concept of God, and thus, prone to mainstream rejection.