The death of the amazing author Terry Pratchett this week got me thinking about poetry that is used to say farewell. Eulogies remember the good in people who have died. Elegies lament sad things like death and war. But valedictions, as seen in high school valedictorian speeches, say farewell to good times and good people. So I thought I would remind us of John Donne’s classic poem that reminds us of how connected we are.
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 refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured 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 airy 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 the 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.
This is a better poem for Prachett than Death, Be Not Proud, since that one foretells the death of Death, and anyone who has read the Discworld novels has a soft spot for this character.
I haven’t read the Discworld series, but after seeing the response of Mr. Pratchett’s fans to his death, I just may go and do so.
Absolutely! I would start with Guards! Guards!
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My favorites are Small Gods, Guards! Guards! and Monstrous Regiment. My son, as a teen, introduced me to Sir Terry’s work. Pratchett’s no literary stylist, but he was terrific at his genre–unique, pointed, funny. Who else could make so many readers so fond of Death?
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