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The date of John Donne's 'A Valediction: Of My Name in The Window: 'a query.

In verses six and seven of 'A Valediction: Of my Name in the Window' Donne comments on the 'virtuous powers which are fixed in the stars' and which are 'said to flow into such characters, as graved be when these stars have supremacy'. He is here referring to the tradition that an inscription might work as a talisman and absorb the influence of the stars and planets in the ascendant when it was cut.

He goes on to say 'so since this name was cut when love and grief their exaltation had', and creates an analogy whereby just as love and grief were at their height when his name was cut in the window, so the name should have power to increase those same passions. Verses six and seven together suggest that the addressee of the poem should open herself to the influence of the name, and mourn him sadly and lovingly until his return to her.

I query whether Donne is not also referring to the specific positions of the actual 'stars' at the time of the inscription. If so, this would lead to the interesting possibility of dating the engraving of the name, and the poem.

Now exaltation has a precise astrological meaning of which Donne, educated in the 'sciences' of his time, would have been aware. Love and grief would then be references to the planets Venus and Saturn through their traditional associations.

Venus is in exaltation astrologically when it is in the sign of Pisces, and Saturn when it is in the sign of Libra. Saturn has a periodicity of 29.5 years, and therefore will be in Libra for two to three years out of every thirty. Venus with faster orbit is in Pisces early every year. A computer calculation reveals that this combination of placings occurred around February 1598, again around March 1599, and again around April 1600. The duration of this planetary combination is approximately a month, and does not occur again for 29.5 years on either side of these dates. Given that this falls at an appropriate time in Donne's life, the period of York House, I speculate that the name was written in the glass at one of these times. This also gives an earliest date for the writing of the poem.

Further I take the 'as much more loving, as more sad, 'Twill make thee' immediately following, as a play on the name of Ann More, whom he was wooing at this time, as also in verse two where the glass is 'more, that it shows thee to thee and clear reflects thee to thine eye', that is, the glass reflects More!

If this is accepted the next questions are where was the glass engraved, and when was the poem itself written? Well the three years in question 1598-1600 are those of York House where Donne was residing, and where Ann also lived before returning to her father's house at Losely. This is the period leading up to Donne's secret marriage to her in 1601. So was the glass in a window at York House? Or was it at Losely or somewhere near? Donne appears to be writing the poem where the window is and some time later, note the 'ever since' in verse one which suggests sufficient time has passed since the cutting for him to demonstrate his 'firmness'. I am not aware of evidence that he visited, or was allowed to visit, Losely, given his poor standing with Sir George More. Further Ann More only returned to Losely from York House in 1600 which does not seem to give enough time for the sequence of events Again, the lady in the poem can 'fling ope this casement' so is still it seems living where the window is located at the time of writing, and Donne suggests she will also be there in the future as she awaits his return. This does not seem to fit Losely as a location unless Donne was an accepted visitor.

I would therefore argue for the location of the window as York House, and for the name being cut in the window in 1598 when they had just met, or in 1599. The poem was then written some time after the name being cut, and while Ann More was still living at York House, that is, before early 1600. In addition the feel of the poem with its reference to her potential rival lovers and its assertion of his faithfulness also suggests it was written before the 1601 marriage. I also note Donne's letter to Sir George More in 1602 (The Losely Manuscripts, ed. A. J. Kempe, 1835) which speaks of 'this matter between your daughter and me' and that 'So long as her being at York House this had foundation, and so much then of promise and contract built upon it as without violence to conscience might not be shaken', that is, York House was the time of their mutual commitment.

In conclusion I think this line of reasoning places the writing of the poem after early 1598 which is the earliest date for the writing of the name in the glass, and before early 1600 when Ann More left York House.

TONY KLINE Sutton Coldfield
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Title Annotation:poem by English poet John Donne
Author:Kline, Tony
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Mar 1, 1997
Words:875
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