Selected Poems by John Donne

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‘Such a pilgrimage were sweet;’ – Donne associates this paragon of her sex with the rarity of sanctity, the usual object of a pilgrimage.

‘Yet she/Will be/False, ere I come, to two, or three.’ – The twist in the tale of this poem turns back on the speaker himself, who is so unlucky in his women that even this imagined paragon would betray him if no one else. This final line implies that the whole poem, for all its elaborate and richly imaginative imagery, is simply the humorous complaint of a man unlucky in love.

Language

One of the most attractive aspects of this poem is the use of a strong trochaic rhythm initially and at other points in the poem. Trochees, in contrast to the more normal iambs, place the stress on the initial syllable of the two syllable metrical foot, and, used frequently, create a chant-like effect (see above). This strong trochaic beat gives the poem its impetus and strong rhythm.

Moving onto the poem’s vocabulary, Donne deliberates draws much of his imagery from an occult background of ‘strange sights,’ ‘falling stars’ (considered omens), ‘mandrakes,’ devils and mermaids, which chimes in well with the spell-like effect of the metre. Against this background, Donne’s ironic use of religious images in the term ‘pilgrimage’ strikes the reader as particularly out of place. All the images suggest something terribly significant and dramatic is about to be revealed, and the joke is that the poem ends with a deliberate anticlimax: the surprising news that beautiful women can let you down.

Structure

Another three stanza poem, which, theoretically at least, contains a three part argument. The first stanza, however, is not linked explicitly to the other two, and seems to have a strange logic of its own, initially unconnected to the quest for a fair and true young lady.

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John Donne