John Donne’s “Go and catch a falling star” is a three stanza poem with nine lines per stanza. As a whole, the lines have an ABABCCDDD rhyme scheme that is maintained throughout. In addition, the lines adhere to a consistent syllable pattern that shifts among the various rhyme schemes. The first four lines, for instance, all have the same number of syllables (seven). The following two lines also have eight syllables each, and then there are two lines with only two syllables each. This stanza concludes with a line of seven syllables.
This is a highly unconventional pattern that is best experienced through oral reading. Donne’s choice of the word “song” for the title of this work indicates that he intended for it to be performed orally.
The poem is a bit of an outlier when compared to the rest of John Donne’s poetry. Despite its lack of the extended metaphors that characterise some of Donne’s best poetry, this piece continues to be a readers’ favourite. However, as the brief analysis of “Song” that follows will hopefully demonstrate, there are many ways in which “Go and catch a falling star” is consistent with Donne’s worldview and poetic style.
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,
Serves to advance an honest mind.
If thou be’est 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
Lives a woman true, and fair.
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
False, ere I come, to two, or three.
Summary of “Go and catch a falling star”
In the first stanza, the author says that one cannot catch a falling star. To create a human body from the mandrake plant’s root would be just as unlikely. The poet lists every improbable scenario imaginable before concluding that he will never meet a beautiful, dependable woman in his lifetime. It is difficult to know how much time has passed, who clove the Devil’s foot, what the song of mermaids sounds like, how to make people immune to the sting of envy, or what kind of weather makes a man trustworthy. Since these are improbable, so is a good and dependable female companion.
Read more: Literature And Empathy: We Need Both Of Them
A man will not be able to confidently declare that he ever found a faithful woman, Donne says in the second stanza, even if he is born with the ability to see strange sights and even invisible objects, if he rides for ten thousand days and nights and travels throughout the world until his hair turns grey, and if he returns and tells me all the wonderful things and happenings.
In the third stanza, the poet states that he would make a pilgrimage to be with a woman who is loyal. That kind of lady deserves all the adoration she can get. The poet, however, believes that any trip, even if it were only to the neighbouring house, would be pointless. It’s possible the woman is faithful when you first meet her, but that won’t last forever. By the time you send her a love letter, she will have already cheated on you with at least two other men.
Thought development in “Go and catch a falling star”
A faithful and pure lady, as Donne sees it, does not exist. Both Elizabethan and Metaphysical poets wrote extensively on the topic of a woman’s infidelity. The poet uses irony and hyperbole to imply that finding a good and honest woman is an impossible task.
Fair ladies will inevitably attract suitors; they can’t possibly be loyal to all of them. Because she won’t be able to woo suitors, an unattractive lady may be more faithful to her partner.
Among the poet’s list of impossibilities are: catching a falling star or meteor, having a child by means of a mandrake root, remembering events from many years ago, discovering the identity of the person who has a thing for the Devil’s foot, hearing the music of the fantastic mermaids, and creating an environment that encourages human honesty.
In the same way that it’s impossible to find a dependable woman, it’s also impossible to complete these jobs. Even if someone had travelled the world and witnessed countless breathtaking places, he still would not have witnessed anything as breathtaking as the beauty of a genuine and attractive lady.
Critical analysis of “Go and catch a falling star”
John Donne never holds back on letting his readers in on his emotions. After examining the world of objects, he discusses the erratic behaviour of women in “Go and Catch a Falling Star.”
Thus, the poem’s central theme is the instability of female relationships. This poem has a lot of irony and symbolism. It’s wrong for a woman to lie to a man. She needs to give it a thousand thoughts before doing it, if she really wants to. Even if she makes the decision to betray, she should make sure her boyfriend is not a poet. Unless, of course, another poet follows in John Donne’s footsteps and immortalises her in verse.
John Donne has apparently been betrayed, and as a result, he doesn’t think many things are impossible except finding a beautiful but loyal woman. In the final lines, he returns to the subject of women’s infidelity.
The poet cites several examples of undertakings that are simply impossible.
The initial objective is to catch a star as it falls. Everyone knows that if they pray hard enough, they might be able to stop a falling star, but that it’s still impossible to catch one.
The second objective is to develop a human offspring from mandrake. The “mandrake” tree is used to make medicine that is safe for humans. Donne uses it as an illustration and claims that it is impossible to have a human kid under such conditions.
The third assignment is to look for prior years. Nobody knows whence it comes or whither it goes, for time is a mystery. That makes it another impossible endeavour.
The poet adds a new challenge: discovering the identity of the person responsible for chopping off the Devil’s feet. Someone, in myth, sliced the devil’s feet, but no one knows who did it.
Listening to mermaid’s music is the fifth job. Once again, Donne draws inspiration from mythology. The mermaid is a legendary creature with the upper body of a lady and the tail and fins of a fish for lower body parts. The poet understands that this is a fictional being, and that it is impossible to hear its song because it does not exist.
The final challenge contains some irony. The nature of humans cannot be altered. Envy is ingrained in human nature, and no one can change that. It’s still ingrained in humanity, so eliminating it completely is a pipe dream.
Donne thinks it’s hard to accomplish all of the aforementioned things, but he admits that despite being difficult, one can still manage to accomplish these tasks. However, it is impossible to find a woman who is both attractive and loyal. It is clear that John Donne is a master of coming up with fantastically outlandish examples, as evidenced by these cases.
Donne manages to keep the poem moving while also illustrating a difficult but not impossible undertaking. Even if a person has superhuman abilities and is able to see weird things, travel hundreds of miles to see nature, and tour the world until his hair turns grey, he will still be unable to meet a faithful woman.
It would appear from this stanza that Donne can be persuaded by no one on the subject of feminine nature. In his view, attractive women do not necessarily have to be faithful as well.
Whether or not he is correct is irrelevant to the fact that the way he presents his arguments and draws parallels between topics is impressive. Donne used the terms “true and faire” to describe his subject matter. He’s describing a woman who is both stunning and devoted. A faithful partner is more likely to be discovered in an unattractive lady than a beautiful one.
In the poem’s final stanza, the author expresses his conviction. He says he will go on a spiritual quest if someone finds him a beautiful, devoted woman.
Possibly Donne is trying to tell us that attractive and dependable females are hard to come by. Therefore, he who discovers it must worship her.
He initially claims that he would worship the goddess if he ever came across her, but then changes his mind because he remembers how unreliable women can be, declaring that he would not go on pilgrimage even if it were to the neighbouring house because it would be pointless.
We cannot classify Donne as a romantic poet. His unromantic outlook persists even as he expresses admiration for attractiveness. By mocking every attractive lady on the planet, “Go and Catch a Falling Star” analysis demonstrates the poet has an unrealistic view of women. When he talks about gorgeous women, he’s not referring to any specific one. He is not anti-beautiful but is opposed to infidelity. The poem is undeniably brilliant. There is just one assignment, in the poet’s perspective, that is impossible: finding a loyal and attractive woman.