Celebrating 45 Years of Marriage

Jacques Louis David, “Antoine Laurent and Marie Anne Lavoisier”


Today Julia and I celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. This one has brought back memories of our first year as we are once again moving into a one-bedroom living space (my mother’s guest house this time), just as we did in August of 1973.  We are excited, as we were back then, at being together and launching into a new stage of life.

The poem is apt in a number of ways. Donne and his wife Anne are a long-married couple and, with Donne traveling, have been separated for a number of months. My Julia has been living with my mother in Tennessee for the past two years while I finished up teaching at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Like the couple in the poem, our relationship is quieter than it used to be—fewer tear-floods and sigh-tempests than in olden days—but it has deepened.

In the poem, that depth is conveyed in part by the contrast between earthquakes and “trepidation of the spheres.” The first are dramatic and can be readily witnessed whereas, when the stars move, the effects are invisible to most, even though the influence is greater.

Seeking vivid ways to convey their connection, Donne comes up with his two of his most celebrated metaphors, beaten gold and a geometrist’s compass. While Donne is traveling far from home, he says that a fine thread, invisible to the eye but still tangible, connects him to his wife. I felt this often in the months that Julia and I spent apart.

The compass points to a different kind of connection, a kind of sympathetic attraction. As I have come home, the compass has grown erect, with the two ends meeting at last. My circle ends as it began so many years ago during a Minnesota summer.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

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. 

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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