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John Donne’s poem “Go and catch a falling star,” (1633) explores women’s presumably inevitable infidelity. In the poem, the speaker claims that no matter where he looks in the world, his chances of finding a lady who will be faithful to him are roughly the same as those of encountering the devil or a mermaid.
The poem’s rhyme pattern, consistent meter, and obvious hyperbole give it a humorous and sarcastic vibe, yet the speaker nevertheless seems to be genuinely depressed, resentful, and cynical about women and relationships.
About the Poet
One of the most significant poets of the late Elizabethan and Jacobean eras in English literature is John Donne (1572-1631). In many respects, Donne’s inventive use of imagery—particularly his penchant for lengthy metaphors and intricate conceits that draw on what were, at the time, brand-new scientific theories and discoveries—marked the beginning of what is now known as metaphysical poetry.
Go and catch a falling star, Get with child a mandrake root, Tell me where all past years are, Or who cleft the devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging, And find What wind Serves to advance an honest mind.
The speaker instructs the audience to “Go and catch a falling star” at the outset of the first line of this song. The poem is most famous for this sentence, which is merely the first example of the absurd chores the speaker proposes. The next step is to impregnate or “become with child” a “mandrake root.” These two claims each have a mystical feel about them.
The mandrake root is frequently linked to hallucinogens or witchcraft. He then asks the listener to “Tell” him historical facts, which is impossible because no one can fully know the past. The “cleft” in the devil’s foot is mentioned in the sentence after that. He is interested in learning how it happened, or more specifically, how the devil’s form was decided.
In the following line of the first verse, he requests instruction on how to “hold off envy’s stinging” or how to “hear mermaids singing.” These requests draw an interesting distinction between personal interest and personal need. He continues, “I want to know what makes people honest,” in the concluding tercet of rhymes. Some people are truthful, while others lie, depending on the “wind” or the situation.
If thou be'st born to strange sights, Things invisible to see, Ride ten thousand days and nights, Till age snow white hairs on thee, Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me, All strange wonders that befell thee, And swear, No where Lives a woman true, and fair.
He makes clear in the second verse that the main intent of this poem is to express his dissatisfaction with the unfair treatment he has received from women. He declares his conviction that there are no “genuine, and fair” or “honest, and lovely” women in the world. He suggests to the listener in the first lines that perhaps “thou be’st born to weird sight.
” Or, to put it another way, if you are accustomed to witnessing the incredible, you should “Ride ten thousand days and nights” and look for as many “strange wonders” as you can. Anyone who tried this, in his opinion, would have to ride until their hair grew white and still not find a woman who was “genuine, and fair.”
It’s intriguing to think about how the speaker arrived at this judgment. It is unclear why he holds this belief, but it is clear that something in his history has predisposed him to do so. He may not believe in love at all or he may be having problems discovering it.
If thou find'st one, let me know, Such a pilgrimage were sweet; Yet do not, I would not go, Though at next door we might meet; Though she were true, when you met her, And last, till you write your letter, Yet she Will be False, ere I come, to two, or three.
The speaker of “Song: Go and catch a falling star” declares in the last nine lines that if “thou findst” a woman who is both true and fair, he will embark on a “pilgrimage” to find her. If there was a chance he could find the ideal companion, he would suffer. However, he decides against going because he is aware that this won’t be the case.
Although the speaker acknowledges that it is always possible that a woman who seems truthful and fair will approach him, he believes that it is more likely that “she / Will be / False” at some point. The realization might take some time to materialize, but he is confident that it will do so eventually.
These lines are incorrect in today’s context. Donne excludes women who, in his opinion, are not lovely and doesn’t explain what problems these ladies have. As a result, he divides women into two groups: those who are attractive but unfaithful and those who are unattractive but unworthy of consideration.