The Expiration by John Donne || Analysis

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The Expiration

So, so, break off this last lamenting kiss,
Which sucks two souls, and vapours both away,
Turn thou ghost that way, and let me turn this,
And let ourselves benight our happiest day,
We asked none leave to love ; nor will we owe
Any, so cheap a death, as saying, Go;

Go; and if that word have not quite killed thee,
Ease me with death, by bidding me go too.
Or, if it have, let my word work on me,
And a just office on a murderer do.
Except it be too late, to kill me so,
Being double dead, going, and bidding, go.

So, so, break off this last lamenting kiss, Which sucks two souls, and vapours both away, Turn thou ghost that way, and let me turn this, And let ourselves benight our happiest day, We asked none leave to love ; nor will we owe Any, so cheap a death, as saying, Go;
The Expiration

Critical Analysis

      John Donne's The Expiration is a typical metaphysical poem. The scene is the parting of lovers after a night of passionate love. The sub-title: A Valediction indicates that it is a farewell scene; the lady is bidding the lover good-bye with a final kiss. The lover interrupts the kiss and tells the beloved to discontinue the kiss because it will mean that ther souls are sucked away and their dead bodies will remain. Their ghosts will wander in different places. This will be a cheap and unnecessary death for them. Death as a result of kissing should be avoided.

      The lover, however, has his own way of devising death. The word 'Go' from the lover will spell the death of the beloved. Similarly the utterance of the same word by the beloved will mean the death of the lover. After their deaths, their souls could go together and enjoy their love endlessly.

Development of Thought:

      The Expiration is a poem of passionate love containing Donne's thought at the time of separation from his beloved. The poet objects to the final kiss of the beloved. This will mean the death of both which should be avoided. Why play into the hands of death or of rivals ? If they have to die, let them die by their own will and through their own method.

The Mantra of Death:

      The poet has a mantra (spell) - a formula of death. This is his own device, namely the utterance of the word "Go". If he utters this word to his beloved, she will die, If she utters the word to the lover, he will die. Perhaps when he utters the word 'Go', the beloved will die immediately and will have no time to say 'Go' to the lover. In fact both want to die simultaneously so that they can go together to the next world or heaven. In case he is alive after his beloved's instant death, he will utter the word 'Go' to himself and thus die. This will be a sort of punishment for him for devising the instant murder of his beloved. When both of them are dead, their souls will mingle and love together in heaven.

Critical Remarks:

      This is a short poem of two stanzas of six lines each. The deep love of the lover for his beloved is reflected through passion, anger, irritation and annoyance. Separation for the lover is equivalent to death. The poem is full of images. Firstly, there is the image of the kiss which sucks two souls. The process of sucking is derived from smoking - inhalation of smoke and exhalation of smoke. The passionate kiss will suck their souls away and they will fall down dead. Then, the lover and the beloved will assume the form of ghosts which can walk at night. The second image is that of murder. According to tradition, the absence of lover from the beloved will mean her death, but Donne devises a 'mantra' for death, namely the word 'Go'. After he has uttered this word, the beloved will be dead; similarly he will die if he or she utters this word. In fact, both of them want to die together as they cannot stand the agony of separation. The poet's mood is one of anger caused by separation. Separation is like death and so both must die because death will mean a permanent union and eternal love.

Paraphrase:

(The poet addresses this poem to the beloved at the time of parting after a night of love.)

      Stanza 1 : So please end this last sad kiss. It sucks out my soul and your soul and makes both of our bodies dead. My ghost will go in one direction and your ghost will go in another direction and thus the happiest day of our love will turn into the night, because the ghosts appear only at night. We did not ask anybody's permission to love, nor do we need any such permission (we loved on account of mutual desire). Why should we die so cheap a death, just by the mere wish of somebody that we should die. (We will die as and when we wish)

      Stanza 2 : If the word 'Go' uttered by me has not yet killed you (the beloved), utter the word 'Go', for me and thereby contrive my death. If you are already dead after I have uttered the word 'Go', let my word 'Go' kill me as a just punishment for a murderer - the killer of the beloved. Unless it is too late for "you to kill me in this manner, since I am already 'doubly dead', through leaving you and through telling you to leave me, we both shall be dead, and then both of us shall go together perhaps to Heaven".

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