Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Go and catch a falling star By John Donne

In "Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star", John Donne weaves a cynical fairy tale full of impossibilities. He seems to be using an almost mocking tone as he speaks about trying to find a woman that is "true" and "fair", comparing the quest to attempting to explain the mysteries of many mythological creatures or events. The title itself is as example of such a comparison; it would indeed be impossible to "catch a falling star". Donne was a Jacobean poet and preacher who wrote many sonnets, love and religious poems, Latin translations, songs, satires, and sermons. He is known for his stylistic use of metaphors and the metaphysical conceit, which is basically an extended metaphor that combines two unlike ideas into a single idea, using imagery. Though he was highly educated and talented, he lived in poverty for many years, and was often persecuted for his family's Catholic faith. The harsh life that Donne led for many years of his life may have led him to adopt a cynical approach to many things, including finding "the perfect woman", something that leads to cynicism even among people today.
As mentioned, the title of the poem is the first indication of Donne's cynicism. He tells the reader to "go and catch a falling star" in the first line as well, basically waving off their quest for a woman that is true. He compares the two journeys, explaining that the chances of finding such a woman are the same as the chances of catching a falling star; impossible. This is also Donne's first use of the metaphysical conceit, which he continues to use throughout the poem.
The next line tells the reader to "get with child a mandrake root". This is yet another impossible situation for a variety of reasons. Mandrakes are mythical plant-like creatures, with roots that take on the form of a person. When pulled up out of the ground, Mandrakes are said to shriek and scream so powerfully that they can kill people standing around them, and are almost always male. Therefore, it would be impossible to impregnate a Mandrake root. Not only are they a fictitious creature, but they are all male, and would kill anyone who attempted to get close enough to one to impregnate it.
In the third line, Donne asks to be told "where all the past years are". Donne is essentially asking where time goes once it has past, something that is also impossible to know. The reader may struggle upon this question, wondering themselves about the mysteries of time, and whether or not we will ever be able to find the
D.N. Aloysius

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