Gender norms and ideals go as far as humanity goes; scientific and religious histories of mankind both accept the different roles of men and women in a household. During the age of cavemen, women used to do the gardening and cooking while men were in charge of hunting and providing for the family; which is similar to Adam and Eve’s life after being cast away from Eden. These norms and ideals have continued and altered throughout history and some still exist. The Baroque age was not an exception to these ideals. While so many books published in the Baroque age describing the duties of women, whether they are unmarried virgins, wives or widows, several rules derived from such books caused tension in everyday household relationships. John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” is an excellent example of the dichotomy between the expectations of each gender and the common household relations.
The dichotomy starts with the title of the poem in which the term valediction conveys the romantic aspect of the relationship between Donne and his wife; while forbidding mourning is a formal order made by the head of the family to his wife. Donne wrote this poem because he was leaving for a continental journey and his wife as any woman in that age, had to stay back home; business trips were described to be a male-dominated job; yet writing a poem based on their separation related issues is considered a romantic gesture which would create a duality between the roles and norms.
The poem starts with Donne comparing their parting to the death of virtuous men as if virtue was a manly quality; he then conveys his concern about his wife publicly speaking about it. He gently preaches to her by saying “so let us melt, and make no noise”, like the quiet and peaceful death of the virtuous men. Telling the public about their love will make it vulgar, which hints that people at the time would not accept a loving relationship between a husband and his wife; whereas today loving relationships between couples are admired. Donne compares his great love with his wife to earthly loves. Unlike earthly loves that cannot endure separation, he explains that their love is beyond physicality. This somewhat complicates the gender norms and ideals of the Baroque, as it introduces love into the boss-employee relationship that was expected between any man and his wife.
The poet uses the word gold to resemble his love with his wife and its expansion to paper-thin sheet resembling their separation, this conceit explains how lovers are never apart and their souls are always connected albeit expanded to the limit. This everlasting love is a...