Like Gold to Aery Thinness Beat

Words certainly have a way with me, but few poems shake me up like John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”.  Every time I read it my heart breaks.

The poem is an idealistic view of two lovers who must endure a physical separation.  It is littered with romantic metaphors intended to provide a point of view that will make the parting easier and perhaps even allow the couple to consider it a strengthening of their spiritual connection.  For me however, the situation conjures up painful memories of separation from loved ones- estranged family members, long distance lovers, and dear friends who have passed away.

The pain doesn’t just come from the memories of difficult times, but rather from hearing the poet assure his lover that everything will be alright and that to mourn their parting is unnecessary.  Donne wrote this poem for his very pregnant wife, Anne, just before traveling to Europe.  He calls their separation not a “breach, but an expansion, like gold to aery thinness beat”.  I wonder how thin such a golden love may be beat before it breaks and tears.

I am beginning a sculpture illustrating this poem which reflects on the analogies of beaten gold and the compass that rebells against its idealistic tone and instead, mourns.  This photo shows my small scale model.  I hope to acknowledge the fragility, the holes, the tearing, and the very real separation that comes with being apart from someone you love.


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.


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