What is the message in the poem by John Donne, "Legacy?" I can't seem to decipher it.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"The Legacy," a poem written by John Donne, a poet during the reign of James I in England, is a love poem.

This is a lovely poem about how much the speaker loves the woman in his life. He first describes:

When I died last, and, Dear, I die
As often as from thee I go,
Though it be but an hour ago,
And Lovers' hours be full eternity,
I can remember yet, that I
Something did say, and something did bestow;

The speaker is saying that he loves this woman so much that every time he leaves her, it's like he dies (a metaphor). It does not matter if it's only been an hour: because for lovers, hours separated from each other seem like an eternity. He then says that he left (bestowed) something: it was his legacy—I believe that he intended for it to be his heart.

The second stanza continues with this theme.

I heard me say, "Tell her anon,
That myself, that is you, not I,
Did kill me," and when I felt me die,
I bid me send my heart, when I was gone,
But alas could there find none,
When I had ripp'd me, and search'd where hearts should lie;

Here the speaker says: tell her that I did not kill myself, but that she is responsible—she killed me, metaphorically speaking. (In the leaving it would seem that it was not his wish to be separated from her, in that he suffers so much being separated from her...so he may be inferring that she signaled that their time together was over for that day.) The speaker goes on to say that he then tried to send her is heart, but when he went to the spot where his heart would be kept, he could not find it.

The last two lines of the second stanza:

It kill'd me again, that I who still was true,
In life, in my last will should cozen you.

This means that he died all over again when he realized that even though during his life he had been true and faithful only to her, that in these last moments he should cozen ("cheat") her of his heart.

In the last stanza, the speaker indicates that he did find something similar to a heart, with the same color, but it had corners instead of being rounded. It wasn't good or bad; in its entirety ("intire"), it had few parts. He seems to describe it as something perhaps made by art: not the real thing. But still—

I meant to send this heart in stead of mine,
But oh, no man could hold it, for 'twas thine.

He wants to send the poor "version" of the heart he has to her, but even that is impossible—no man could carry it to her because it already belongs to her.

This is a wonderful poem—great for Valentine's Day!

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