The Nature of True Love: Shakespeare and Donne's Perspectives

Categories: William Shakespeare

Throughout history, the concept of true love has evolved and transformed. In contemporary times, it's often portrayed as a fleeting, lighthearted emotion that one experiences when in the company of another person. However, in the eras of William Shakespeare and John Donne, true love was characterized by a deep, spiritual, and emotional connection between two individuals. This connection, they believed, would withstand the test of time and grow stronger even in the face of separation. While some argue that love can be transient, poets like Shakespeare and Donne celebrated a love that endured.

Their verses depicted a love that was deemed the purest and most enduring of all.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 116: Love as an Unchanging Guiding Star

William Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 stands as an enduring testament to his perspective on true love. In this renowned poem, the persona describes love as unwavering and impervious to obstacles. Love, according to Shakespeare, is a guiding star that steers lost ships through the storms of life.

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It remains steadfast, guiding and preserving the bond between two individuals, even during turbulent times.

Shakespeare's confidence in his definition of true love is unwavering. He asserts that if his words could be proven false, then he must not have written a single word, and no person has ever truly experienced love. This unwavering certainty underscores the idealism and romanticism of the love he describes. True love, as depicted by Shakespeare, transcends even death and knows no imperfections.

As Douglas Hammond suggests, Sonnet 116 proposes a love that exists in an unchanging present, impervious to the unpredictable twists of time.

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The opening lines of the sonnet are reminiscent of marriage vows, reinforcing the idea of a love that lasts through all adversities. The persona acknowledges potential impediments but asserts that true love strengthens the bond between two individuals, akin to the commitment made in the sacrament of marriage.

Shakespeare's poem goes on to emphasize the constancy of love, highlighting that it does not change with time. It serves as an unyielding anchor, unaffected by external influences. The persona's reference to the Day of Judgment as the only time when love might cease to exist underscores the enduring nature of the love he describes. Love, in this context, is a force beyond human comprehension, an immortal connection that transcends earthly boundaries.

John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning": Love Beyond the Physical

In John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," a different persona explores the facets of true love. Many historians believe that Donne composed this poem for his wife, Anne Donne, before his departure for France in 1611. The valediction in the poem serves as a plea to his lover to remain steadfast in her love during his absence.

Donne's poem delves into a love that extends beyond the physical realm, demonstrating its ability to survive separation. The poem equates the lovers' parting to the kind of separation experienced through death. The physical connection that the speaker shares with his wife will quietly dissolve, much like the departure of a soul from a dying body.

Donne's perspective on love discourages tears and mourning. He believes that such expressions of grief would tarnish the sacred nature of their love. He contends that displaying their emotions openly would reduce their love to something common, shared by ordinary people. Instead, he argues that their love should remain untouched by outward displays of sorrow.

The poem emphasizes that disturbances in their love, caused by separation, are as inconsequential as distant tremors in the heavens. Donne's love exists independently of physical presence. It is a love that endures beyond the confines of the physical body, transcending the limitations of earthly existence.

Donne's poem also draws a poignant analogy between their love and pure, malleable gold. Their love, like gold, can be stretched and expanded without losing its essence. It possesses a resilience that enables it to withstand the trials of time and distance.

Perhaps Donne's most famous comparison in the poem likens their love to "stiff twin compasses." This metaphor emphasizes the idea that their love, like the compass, remains connected and unbroken. The fixed foot of the compass represents one partner, while the other leg, far-roaming yet always returning, symbolizes the partner who travels. Their love remains intact, completing a perfect circle, with no beginning or end.

Through this vivid metaphor, Donne encapsulates the essence of true love—a love that is unbreakable, enduring, and ever-returning, like the unbroken circle of the compass. His unique perspective on love resonates deeply with readers, inspiring them to seek a love that transcends the physical realm and endures through all challenges.

The Enduring Nature of True Love

Both Shakespeare and Donne, in their distinct ways, shed light on the enduring nature of true love. They invite readers to contemplate a love that transcends time, space, and physicality. While their expressions may differ, their core message remains consistent: true love is unchanging, unwavering, and everlasting.

These two poets challenge the contemporary notion that love can be fleeting and transient. They celebrate a love that not only survives separation but thrives in its absence. In a world where superficial connections often take precedence, Shakespeare and Donne remind us of the profound depth that love can attain.

Marriage vows often echo the sentiments expressed by these poets—promises of love that endures through sickness and health, forsaking all others until death. The enduring marriages that span fifty years or more often attest to the power of such a deep and abiding love. It is a love that is not merely about physical attraction or momentary passion but rather a profound connection that sustains and strengthens over time.

True love, as conveyed by Shakespeare and Donne, remains a beacon of stability and constancy in a world characterized by change and uncertainty. It is an ever-fixed mark, a source of strength that individuals can hold onto in the most challenging moments of life.

As humans evolve and change over time, love remains a steadfast force, unwavering and eternal. It is a force that transcends time and space, uniting individuals across generations and cultures. While the world around us may shift and transform, true love remains as constant and unchanging as the North Star, guiding us through the storms of life.


In conclusion, the perspectives of William Shakespeare and John Donne on true love offer valuable insights into the enduring nature of this complex emotion. Their poems, Sonnet 116 and "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," respectively, paint a vivid portrait of a love that defies the limitations of time and space.

Shakespeare's sonnet portrays love as an unwavering guiding star, a force that remains unshaken by life's storms. Donne, on the other hand, presents love as a metaphysical connection that transcends the physical realm. Both poets emphasize a love that endures separation and is unblemished by the passage of time.

These timeless perspectives challenge modern notions of love as fleeting and temporary. Instead, they celebrate a love that is deep, abiding, and unwavering. It is a love that enriches the human experience and serves as a constant source of strength and stability.

As individuals navigate the complexities of modern relationships, the words of Shakespeare and Donne remind us of the profound depth that love can attain. In a world characterized by change and uncertainty, true love stands as an ever-fixed mark, guiding us through the tumultuous seas of life and offering solace in times of need.

Cite this page

The Nature of True Love: Shakespeare and Donne's Perspectives. (2016, Jun 22). Retrieved from

The Nature of True Love: Shakespeare and Donne's Perspectives
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