Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Go and catch a falling star...

John Donne’s “Song: Go, and Catch a Falling Star” (1633) is a perfect example of Donne’s earlier playfulness with metaphysical conceits and female sexuality. As a younger poet, before Donne became an Anglican Theological Doctorate famous for his sermons, John Donne was a rather ‘maiden-obsessed’ Jacobean poet with a reputation for sonnets about the women of London. John Donne’s “Song: Go, and Catch a Falling Star”, is an example of some of the humorous works Donne would come up with for the drunken jokers of English taverns to recite when out of favor with the ladies.
John Donne (1572 – 1631) was a metaphysical lyrical poet famous for his use of the metaphysical conceit: a strange and interesting comparison between two subjects when they, in fact, have very little in common at all. These comparisons are so outrageous that in doing so, Donne’s poetry could almost be considered metaphysical ‘humor.’ A classic example of Donne’s work, “The Flea” (1633), shares much of the style and banter of “Song: Go, and Catch a Falling Star”. In “The Flea”, Donne attempts to persuade a woman to make love with him by describing a bedbug that had bitten them both, and then comparing that insect to a wedding bed. In Donne’s argument, because their blood was consequently mingling within the insect, was that they were already unified in a symbolic sanguine marriage, and so the physical act of love between them now would be of little consequence to the woman’s principles. This same sense of humor, the one that made John Donne such a historical poet, is what a reader would find in Donne’s “Song: Go, and Catch a Falling Star.”
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. -
If thou be'est born to strange sights, 10
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. -
If thou find'st one, let me know,
Such pilgrimage were sweet. 20
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.
(John Donne, 1633)
John Donne’s “Song: Go, and Catch a Falling Star” is a metaphysical conceit of the unnaturally small frequency of fair and virtuous women in the world. Donne uses the fantastic and impossible examples of catching falling stars; pregnancies with mandrake roots; and hearing mermaids singing to describe just how hard it is to find a beautiful woman who will stay true and loyal to her husband. Donne describes in the second and final stanza of “Song: Go, and Catch a Falling Star” how if one were to search the world for a thousand days and nights, seeing many strange and wonderful things, they would still not find a single faithful woman. Donne even goes so far as to state in the last stanza that if he were to know where that perfect woman was, even if she was next door, she would already be false with several men before he even managed to walk the few steps to reach her.

D.N. Aloysius

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