The compasses revealed…..


As I was saying….the compasses…you weren’t there ? You missed it ? Don’t worry….you can see it here.. I’ll wait till you come back.

There’s this young man, good looking, blazingly clever at everything, and he’s sent on a diplomatic mission to France. He doesn’t want to go, because it means leaving the girl he loves behind. It’s a wild, passionate affair conducted in secret because her father doesn’t approve. So he sends her a letter.
This is part of it:

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.

Don’t worry, he says, trying to comfort himself as well as her, our love is not torn apart. It’s like gold beaten out into gold leaf, still there, still shining, still whole.

How’s that for a wonderful metaphor ? Love- an abstract, an invisible, is compared with gold, a precious substance which is beaten out into something as near invisible as possible. The whole image hangs on that wonderful phrase- “aery thinness.”

And then the compasses. Notice they are stiff compasses, hard to pull apart ( as are the lovers). Her soul is the fixed point and his the sweeping hand which describes a circle. She leans towards him as he orbits around her, and then stands tall when he comes home. Her firmness ( point planted on the paper- and also loyalty) controls his wanderings. And his physical journey ends where it begun ( in London) as well as his spiritual journey, which ends with her.

She completes him.

The poet is, of course, John Donne and you can find out more about him here:

So- I hope you can see that metaphor is the poet’s most powerful tool. It can work miracles, turn two into three, the abstract into the concrete.It can start a chain reaction.

There will be one more post in this series of three. Look out for it.


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