Goe, and Catche a Falling Starre Summary

John Donne


Goe, and catche a falling starre,
Get with child a mandrake roote,
Tell me, where all past yeares are,
Or who cleft the Divels foot,
Teach me to heare Mermaides singing,
Or to keep off envies stinging,
And find
What winde
Serves to advance an honest minde.

If thou beest borne to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand daies and nights,
Till age snow white haires on thee,
Thou, when thou retorn'st, wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And sweare
No where
Loves a woman true, and faire.

If thou findst one, let mee know,
Such a Pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet doe not, I would not goe,
Though at next doore wee might meet,
Though shee were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet shee
Will bee
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

This poem by John Donne is simply titled "Song," but to distinguish it from the other songs and sonnets Donne wrote it is often listed by its first line: "Goe and catch a falling starre." It falls within the category of poetry that most authorities term Donne's "love poems" or his "younger works," but there is no accurate way to determine when Donne wrote it. He did not publish during his lifetime (although his poems were often circulated in manuscript), so they are notoriously difficult to date.

The feeling in this poem, however, is that the speaker is a young man. He throws out fanciful notions of impossible attainments, such as "getting with child a mandrake root" (a root which was connected with witchcraft in medieval lore) and hearing "Mermaids singing," but then the tone quickly turns serious. The young man, who may still have as much fascination with fantasy as he does with reality, asks how he can keep from feeling "envies stinging." The change is abrupt, but not jarring, because of Donne's careful use of regular verse and exact rhyme. He lightens the sentiment in the following two lines, which are so short they have only one heavy stress: "And finde/What winde." To continue the the tetrameter at this point in the stanza would lead the reader further toward useless comparison and envy, but the short lines bring the wry note back into the poem before the ending line of the stanza: "Serves to advance an honest minde." This young man seems to have several complaints not only toward women but also toward society.

But the real point of the poem comes in the two last stanzas. The metrical pattern is repeated, but after all the fantastical constructions the poet simply asserts, "No where / Lives a woman true, and faire." This has been in the speaker's mind all along, for all the impossible assertions serve as an exaggerated comparison to this, the poet asserts, one completely impossible thing—a beautiful and loyal woman. This cynical view was somewhat a poetic convention in Donne's time, but the tone of this poem is such that it appears that this belief formed in the speaker because he was personally rejected (note in the last stanza the reference to a woman "at next doore"—the speaker's experience may have been very close to home).

Donne's last stanza, which keeps the insertion of the short flippant lines within a stanza whose content is becoming increasingly misogynist, ends with the speaker saying that "Yet shee/Will bee/False..." even if the person he is speaking to could find a fair and true woman. He uses more poetic exaggeration, saying that even if she was found nearby, by the time his friend wrote the letter to him telling of her beauty and faithfulness she would have betrayed two or three men. The bitterness of this line shows that the speaker's dreamy imperatives of earlier in the poem, such as "Ride ten thousand daies and nights," were only a screen for his deep unhappiness at being betrayed in love.