Song : Go And Catch A Falling Star by John Donne

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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,
And find
What wind
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
And swear
No where
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
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

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, And find What wind Serves to advance an honest mind.
Song : Go And Catch A Falling Star

Critical Analysis:

      Song : Go And Catch A Falling Star was posthumously published in 1633 in the volume entitled 'Songs and Sonnets'. It was written by Donne in his youth when he saw a good deal of London life. The subject of woman's inconstancy was a stock subject but Donne enlivened it with his personal experience. His gay lile in London and his association with different women in London only confirmed his view about woman's faithlessness. In this poem, the poet, through a series of images, shows the impossibility of discovering a true and faithful woman. While the poets following the Petrarchan tradition made of woman a heroine and a goddess, worthy of love and admiration, he metaphysIcal poets poked fun at woman's fashions, weakness and faithlessness. Shakespeare's maxim - "Frailty thy name is woman" - was quite popular in the age of Donne. The fickleness of woman could be more easily experienced than described. The cynical attitude to the fair sex in the early poems of Donne, is in contrast with the rational attitude to love and sex to be found in his later poems.

Development of Thought:

      According to Donne, it is impossible to find a loyal and chaste woman. Woman's inconstancy proved a popular subject with the Elizabethan and the Metaphysical poets. The poet, through irony and exaggeration suggests the impossibility of the undertaking to discover a true and fair woman. Fair women will have lovers and therefore it is not possible for them to be faithful to any of them. (Faithfulness on the part of an ugly and uninviting woman can be a possibility because she will not be able to attract lovers). The poet mentions a number of impossible tasks - catching a falling star or meteor, begetting a child on a mandrake root, memory of past years, finding the name of the person who clove the Devil's foot, listening to the music of the fabulous mermaids, changing human nature so as to make it indifferent to envy and jealousy or finding out the climate which would promote man's honesty. Just as it is impossible to do these Jobs, in the same way it is impossible to find a faithful woman. Even if a man were to travel throughout the world for ten thousand days and nights - this would cover more than twenty-seven years - till his hair grew grey, he would not come across a faithful woman. He might have seen many wonderful scenes and sights, but he would not have seen the most wonderful sight of all that of a true and fair woman.

A Real Pilgrimage:

      The poet is very keen on discovering a true and fair woman if there be any such in the world. If any one tells the poet that there is such a woman, he would go on a pilgrimage to see her. She would really deserve his admiration and worship. The poet, however, feels that the journey will be futile, for even such woman's faithfulness will be temporary. By the time one writes a letter to her, she would have enjoyed with two or three lovers. Hence the poet despairs about seeing any constant woman.

Critical Remarks:

      Though technically the poem is a 'song' which should have sweetness, lilt and smoothness, it has a lot of argument. The colloquial form of the poem the speaking voice in a real situation - deserves attention. The rhythm is similar to that of speech rhythm which changes according to the needs of the argument. The breaking of the tetrameter form in lines seven and eight (with two syllables each) is a dramatic device that projects tension rather than irregularity, and indicates the stress that one would use in a dramatic reading."The poet constantly indulges in dislocating the accepted rhythms, dropping his lines most unexpectedly (though always giving us pleasant surprises) but the final impression is not one of confession but of an inner logic of the poet's experience". The use of hyperbole is understandable : "Ten thousand days and nights till age snow white hairs on thee". The witty ironic reversal in the last stanza is a device commonly used by Donne. All his journey and trouble in finding a true and fair woman would result in love's labour lost. The poet draws images from a wide field of knowledge - mythology, Christianity and legendary love. He proves his thesis with a masculine gusto and youthful vivacity.

Paraphrase:

      Stanza 1 : It is impossible to catch a falling star. It is equally impossible to produce a human body from the root of the mandrake plant (which resembles the human shape). (The poet mentions all the impossible. things and comes to the conclusion that it is impossible to find a handsome and faithful woman in the world.) It is impossible to tell where the past years have gone or who clove (split) the Devil's foot, or to listen to the music of the mermaids (fabulous creatures) or to change human nature so as not to feel the pain of envy or to find out the climate which makes a man honest. (Just as these things are impossible, so also a fair and faithful woman is impossible.)

      Stanza 2 : If a man is born with the power to see strange sights and even invisible objects, if he rides ten thousand days and nights and travels all over the world till his hair turm grey and if he on return tells me all the wonderful things and happenings, he will not be able to swear an oath that he ever found (during his travels) a fair and faithful woman.

      Stanza 3 : If any one finds a woman who is both fair and true, the poet would go to her, as if on a pilgrimage to some holy place. Such a woman would be worthy of worship. However, the poet feels that such a journey - even if it be at the next door - would be futile. The woman might have been faithful at the time when you meet her, but she could not be faithful to you for long. By the time you write your letter to her, she would have been false to you (and been loved by two or three lovers).

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