John Donne: A Collection of Critical Essays

By Helen Gardner | Go to book overview

A Valediction: of Weeping"

by William Empson

"A Valediction: of Weeping" weeps for two reasons, which may not at first sight seem very different; because their love when they are together, which they must lose, is so valuable, and because they are "nothing' when they are apart. There is none of the Platonic pretense Donne keeps up elsewhere, that their love is independent of being together; he can find no satisfaction in his hopelessness but to make as much of the actual situation of parting as possible; and the language of the poem is shot through with a suspicion which for once he is too delicate or too preoccupied to state unambiguously, that when he is gone she will be unfaithful to him. Those critics who say the poem is sincere, by the way, and therefore must have been written to poor Anne,* know not what they do.

Let me powre forth
My teares before thy face, whil'st I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stampe they beare,
And by this Mintage they are something worth,
For thus they be
Pregnant of thee,

Fruits of much grief they are, emblemes of more,
When a tear falls, that thou falst which it bore,
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a divers shore.1

"Allow me this foolishness; let me cry thoroughly while I can yet see your face, because my tears will be worth nothing, may, in fact, not flow at all,

____________________
"'A Valediction: of Weeping.'" From Seven Types of Ambiguity, by William Empson , 3rd edition, revised ( London, 1953: reprinted 1956), pp. 139-148. Copyright 1930 by Chatto and Windus, Ltd. Reprinted by permission of the author, Chatto and Windus, and New Directions. [The chapter from which this passage is excerpted deals with "a fourth type" of ambiguity which "occurs when two or more meanings of a statement do not agree among themselves, but combine to make clear a more complicated state of mind in the author." Ed.]
*
[ Professor Empson asks me to add here that he now thinks that "the poem may have been written to Donne's wife, because the ironies are not against the woman addressed but against his own previous uses of the fantastic argument." He wishes readers to be referred to his article "Donne the Spaceman," Kenyon Review, 1957. Ed.]
1
The three verses of the poem are quoted and examined separately.

-52-

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