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Analysis of ‘Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star by John Donne

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John Donne’s large work of poems can be divided into two categories. One is love poems and the other is divine poems. His love poems were about some women he loved but there were not sugar coated love poems but poems which describe the beauty but at the same there are arguments, pleads and sometimes scoff. His divine poems take his comparison to a different level. He lived between 1572 and 1631 but none of his poems were published then. Later the publishers compiled many of his poems into a book and called it ‘Songs and Sonnets’. This book was published in 1633 and this poem ‘Go and catch a falling Star’ is found in this book. The title is the first line of the poem.

In the first stanza the poet asks the person he is addressing to do seven tasks which are impossible. One is to catch a falling star; another was to create a child from a mandrake root. The mandrake tree is supposed to have a human form, yet we cannot create a child from it. The third task is to find out where time had gone, all the past years. The fourth task was to find out who cut the devil’s foot. The fifth was to find someone who would teach him to hear the mermaid’s song. Mermaids are fictitious characters. Just not that, the Greek mythology is that mermaids lured sailors and pulled them into the ocean. So there can be no one who can teach how to listen to the mermaid’s song, as all who had listened to it were dead. The sixth task was to keep envy away from his heart. The seventh and last task was to find out how to make an honest person to find success. The poet believed that honest minds did could not advance in life.

In the second stanza he says to the person he addresses that if he had super human qualities and could travel far, many ten thousand days and nights, till his hair turned white he should do it. On such a travel, the poet says, if he meets any woman who is fair and true, to please come back and report to the poet. In the third stanza Donne says if that person finds a fair and true woman, he should consider that trip as a pilgrimage. Even if the person reports to the poet, the poet has no desire to meet such a person.  Donne says that even if she was staying next door, by the time it is reported to the poet that woman would have cheated (false).

This is a 27 line poem in three stanzas. The rhyme scheme is ABABCCDDD. As is the usual style of Donne, he starts with no introduction and straight to the point. The meter used in the poem is a not seen often in Donne’s poems. They are tetrameter iambic lines with the monometer iambic lines in between.  The short lines are different and add musical quality to the poem. In most of his poems individual woman is described or criticised but in this poem he is pulling down womankind. He says one cannot find a woman who is ‘fair and true’. It is really not easy to accept this thought of Donne, so most critics say he might have meant the whole of mankind and not just women. The metaphysical aspects are also brought into and show the philosopher in him. ‘Tell me where all past years are’ is a thought provoking line. What is past is past and can never be brought back. The lines

And find

What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind

indicates that people have been the same centuries before. In these lines he says that people who are honest have a difficult time in becoming successful. The impossible tasks given by the poet are all so truly impossible and so varied. Space, land, religion, mythology, time, mind and society is brought in. A different poem from the pen of John Donne which makes the readers ponder about life.