The Indifferent: by John Donne - Summary and Analysis

Also Read

The Indifferent

I can love both fair and brown,
Her whom abundance melts, and her whom want betrays,
Her who loves loneness best, and her who masks and plays,
Her whom the country formed, and whom the town,
Her who believes and her who tries,
Her who still weeps with spongy eyes,
And her who is dry cork, and never cries,
I can love her, and her, and you and you,
I can love any, so she be not true.

Will no other vice content you?
Will it not serve your turn to do, as did your mothers?
Have you old vices spent, and now would find out others?
Or doth a fear, that men are true, torment you?
Oh we are not, be not you so,
Let me, and do you, twenty know.
Rob me, but bind me not, and let me go.
Must I, who came to travail through you,
Grow your fixed subject, because you are true?

Venus heard me sigh this song,
And by love's sweetest part, variety, she swore,
She heard not this till now; and that it should be so no more,
She went, examined, and returned ere long,
And said, 'Alas, some two or three
Poor heretics in love there be,
Which think to establish dangerous constancy.
But I have told them, "Since you will be true,
You shall be true to them, who are false to you"

I can love both fair and brown, Her whom abundance melts, and her whom want betrays, Her who loves loneness best, and her who masks and plays, Her whom the country formed, and whom the town, Her who believes and her who tries, Her who still weeps with spongy eyes, And her who is dry cork, and never cries, I can love her, and her, and you and you, I can love any, so she be not true.
The Indifferent

Summary and Analysis


      This poem belongs to Donne's youth. During his twenties, he led a licentious life in London. The poem is included in the volume entitled 'Songs and Sonnets' published posthumously in 1633. The theme is the inconstancy of women the same as that of Go and Catch. The title 'Indifferent' refers to the poet as a lover. He is indifferent to the physical appearance and the qualities of women. All that he insists is that they should be faithless and inconstant. He is morally afraid of faithful and chaste women who will make a slave of him. The usual irony and banter are evident in this poem.


      Stanza 1: Women are indifferent. They all have one common quality-inconstancy. The poet enjoys the love of all women, irrespective of their physical or mental aspects.

      I can love any woman, whether she be fair or brown. I can love a wealthy and lustful woman as much as a poor woman who sells her body. I can love a lonely woman as well as a woman who loves entertainment like masks and plays. I can love a country wench or a sophisticated urban girl. I can love a woman who believes in my love or who wants to put my love to test. I can love a woman who is sentimental and tearful as also a woman who is stone-hearted and dry as a cork. I can love any woman provided she is not faithful or loyal.

      Stanza 2: Will no other vice (except inconstancy) keep you happy? Will you continue to follow the example of your mothers and be like them false and faithless? Are you not bored with your old vices and do you want to find new vices? Does the fear-that men are loyal and faithful in their love - prick your soul? On, we men are not constant and you should also, like men, be inconstant. Let me know twenty women just as you as a woman know twenty lovers. I do not mind if you rob me (of my money) but I will not bind myself to any woman, I may undergo trouble and suffering but I shall not be your slave. I shall never be faithful though a woman may be constant to me.

      Stanza 3: Venus the goddess of love and beauty according to the Roman myth - heard my song in praise of the inconstancy of woman and took an oath that variety is charming and that she would no more be constant and faithful. She went out to find if what the poet had said about woman's inconstancy was really true. She came back and reported: "Alas, there are two or three women who want to remain true and faithful in their love". But she has told them that variety is the spice of life. If they remain true, they will be true to men who are unfaithful to them. (Faithfulness both for man and woman is dangerous, according to the poet).

Development of Thought:

      In the poem, 'The Indifferent' John Donne believes that all women are faithless. He, admires this quality and regards it as a virtue. He can make love to any woman; he is not choosy about their physical or mental traits. The women may be fair or brown, lustful on account of affluence or corrupt on account of poverty. He does not care if the woman loves loneliness or likes cultural programs and entertainments, so long as she is ready to accept him. He is indifferent to whether she is a village girl or a sophisticated urban lady. He does not care if she takes his love seriously or as fun. The lady may be sentimental and tearful or stone-hearted; it is just the same to him. He can love all sorts of women provided they are not constant to him. He can excuse any fault or deficiency in a woman, but he cannot tolerate faithfulness on her part. He simply cannot love a faithful woman.

Critical Analysis

      The poem contains three stanzas of nine lines each. There is a regular rhyme scheme. What amazes the reader, is the poet's confession of his own fickleness in love. He can love any woman so long as she does not take him seriously. He would not commit or bind himself to any woman for love or money. He wants freedom of indulgence in sex. The paradox in the last stanza is rather cynical - the faithful woman will discover that her lover is false to her. One should not take this poem seriously. The immoral and jaded tone is in conformity with the social condition in the age of Donne.

Constancy is Slavery:

      The poet regards constancy as a great vice which women should avoid. They have the example of their mothers who were as false and faithless as they are. Perhaps women think that men are constant and faithful and this makes women feel bad. They suffer from the stings of conscience. The poet assures such women that men are not constant and, therefore, they should follow the example of men. Women may cause the poet any amount of pain or sorrow and still, he will love them. But he cannot agree to bind himself forever to any woman. This kind of slavery he cannot stand. Even if a woman is faithful to him, he will not be faithful to her, because he likes variety in women.

Variety is Sweet:

      The poet thinks that Venus, the goddess of love has heard this song in praise of inconstancy. She agreed with him that variety is pleasant and sweet. She had never come across such an original concept. She assured the poet that in spite of his insistence on woman's constancy as a virtue there are only two or three in the world who would like to be faithful in love. Even if they do so, they would be faithful to men who are not loyal to them. When there are no constant men, why should there be any constant man? It is better to enjoy a number of women and get the benefit of variety of love-making. Constancy is obnoxious and boring in life. The dialogue with Venus is quite interesting. She insists on "inconstancy among her followers; the few women who disobey her by being true shall be punished with false lovers." The poet rejects the plea that because men are faithful, women too should be faithful. He assures the ladies that men are as unfaithful as women. Inconstancy does not depend on sex. It is prevalent universally among both sexes. Let women rest assured that constancy is a vice. Let them give up their search for new vice.

Previous Post Next Post

Search Your Questions