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In this poem, the speaker explains to his lover that he must leave, though not because he has grown weary of her or believes that he can find a better lover out there in the world somewhere. He just has to go on some kind of trip, but he explains, however, that since he "Must die at last," it probably is not a bad idea to get used to the idea of parting from one another. If such short-lived partings are hard, imagine how difficult it will be when they are parted by death.

The speaker goes on to say that man's power is "feeble" because

[...] if good fortune fall, [he]
Cannot add another hour,
Nor a lost hour recall!

In other words, even when a man experiences really good fortune and luck, he can do nothing to prolong that good fortune nor to recall any good times that have already passed. We can do nothing to gain more time or luck for ourselves, and, thus, our power is "feeble" as a result.

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According to John Donne in this poem, a man's power is feeble because his fortunes, either good or bad, are things which affect him and which he cannot defend himself against. Should a man encounter "good fortune," this still will not add even a single hour to his life, nor can it get back again an hour which he has already spent. Meanwhile, if "bad chance" should befall a man, there is nothing he can do to prevent it from overcoming him. The power of man is feeble in comparison to the forces of the universe. Man is only a small being in the wider scheme of things.

Donne says these things in order to influence the subject of the poem not to "waste" their life by spending time away from him when they could be together. Like several other John Donne poems, this is a type of "carpe diem" message which plays upon the transitory nature of man's existence in order to encourage a beloved to pass time in the company of the poet, knowing that both their lives are short.

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