Trepidation of the Spheres

Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut.
Source: The Guardian, Alamy Stock Photo
An information security post about poetry today, based on Valediction Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise, [5]
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; [10]
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

The above metaphor gave me pause. The point seems to be that an inter-planetary event has far more significance yet is less stressful than an event on earth. Donne clearly wants it to be this way, to make a point about quiet goodbyes.

I suspect that if you tell someone that a “sphere” event is likely (e.g. meteor strike) they will find as much or more trepidation than events happening on earth. On the other hand, Donne perhaps knew this and was really implying that the greatest impacts are the least frequent and thus should not be feared with the same intensity (profanation) as frequent ones of less severity. He continues:

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
‘Whose soul is sense’cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove [15]
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assur’d of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss. [20]

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 [25]
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, [30]
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, [35]
And makes me end where I begun.

Clever imagery within a poem of managing risk. The legs of the compass — one static as the other one roams and more erect when they are together — is a beautiful metaphor for continuity.

One thought on “Trepidation of the Spheres”

  1. At first I didn’t see this as a poem about managing risk, but after giving it more consideration I’ve found that I agree. I see it more as a poem about managing risk in a relationship, but then again information security is not an area I know much about.

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