Selected Poems by John Donne

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The repetition of structure and word in the second verse, exploits the rule of three: tripled ‘Let…’ clauses come to a resolution in the final one, and the word ‘worlds’ is used three times, before it is replaced and corrected by ‘one world.’

Like The Flea , this poem contains Donne’s fondness for dramatic contrasts of scale (especially in the map imagery, picked up in stanza three by ‘hemispheres’), but also his love of the bizarre and grotesque. The Seven Sleepers’ ‘den’ is a place where the lovers might have ‘snorted’ – a gross word to associate with saints, with perhaps a scholar’s snort at the old legend. The phrase ‘suck’d on country pleasures’ is also very physical, and picks up the earlier imagery of being weaned from the breast, with, perhaps, a further, indelicate, meaning.

Structure

Donne particularly favours poems with three stanzas, probably because such a structure suggests a neat and convincing argument (pro, contra, then synthesis). Each stanza divides into two, with an ABAB quatrain followed by a triplet rhyme, which, as in The Flea , finishes off each stanza effectively, and also has the particular mystique of the number three. In each stanza, this structural division is exactly mirrored by the content, so that, in stanza one, the quatrain continues the question of the opening sentence, while the tercet reflects on the ‘fancies’ or ‘fantasies’ that preceded the lovers’ new, real experience of love. The way in which each stanza breaks into two unequal halves perhaps embodies the sudden and dramatic change that has entered the lives of the two lovers. While the triplet serves to evoke a witty and convincing argument, the interwoven rhymes of the quatrain give a more energetic impulse to these parts of the poem.

Song (Goe and catche a falling starre)

The meaning and ‘message’ of ‘Go, and catch a falling star’ was a trivial and commonplace idea in Donne’s time – that all women are faithless – and it is the least interesting aspect of the poem. It should certainly not be taken as a serious statement, simply a piece of whimsy on which the poem hangs some remarkable and imaginatively engaging images.

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John Donne