Goe, and Catche a Falling Starre

by John Donne

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The structure of John Donne’s poem “Goe, and Catche a Falling Starre” is regular and repeated through all three stanzas; Donne uses largely trochaic meter in one-foot or four-foot lines. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is ababccddd, and the only repeated rhyme is the long e (such as in “see” and “thee” in the second stanza), which is used twice in the second stanza, occurs again in the third, and is the final sound of the poem.

The literary devices that the poet uses include descriptive imagery, primarily visual, and hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration for effect. Stanza 1, in particular, contains many visual images, such as those of “a falling starre,” “a mandrake roote,” and the devil’s cleft foot. This stanza also contains the auditory imagery of the “Mermaides singing.”

By writing the poem from the second-person perspective, John Donne gives the impression that the speaker is in dialogue with another person. From the outset, this speaker issues commands to the person he is addressing. In the first stanza, almost every line includes commands, usually at the beginning of the line: “goe,” “catche,” and “tell,” for example. Donne uses hyperbole here, as the commands are absurd: to catch a star is impossible, and to impregnate a plant—a “mandrake roote”—would violate nature’s laws.

The second stanza has a milder tone, as the speaker ceases his series of commands and delves into a hypothetical situation with the line, “If thou be’st borne to strange sights.” Having established a series of impossibilities in the previous stanza, the speaker implies that if his addressee could accomplish all of these things and travel “ten thousand daies and nights,” he still would not find a “true” and “faire” woman. Additionally, Donne employs a paradox with his line “Things invisible to see,” insisting that even if his addressee could see the invisible, finding a loyal woman would still be impossible.

The forcefulness and commanding tone of the first stanza demonstrates the speaker’s confidence in his assertions; the paradox and absurd suggestions, likewise, emphasize the impossibility of locating a “true” woman.

Stanza 3 opens with the same words as stanza 2: “If you.” Here, the speaker again evokes a hypothetical situation, but this time, it is one where the addressee does find a loyal woman. In contrast to the incredible impossibilities and scenarios in the first two stanzas, the speaker seems to shift to a more ordinary setting in this stanza: aside from the pilgrimage metaphor, the language is comparatively plain and straightforward. Most of the words are of one syllable, creating a clipped, even terse, effect and perhaps demonstrating insistence and frustration on the part of the speaker.

In this stanza, Donne writes two contradictory statements: “let mee know” and “yet doe not.” Even if the addressee could find a loyal woman, the speaker declares, he “would not goe” to meet her; for, he argues with the last lines of the poem, a “true” woman cannot possibly exist. The speaker’s contradictory commands at the beginning of the stanza demonstrate his unwavering belief in women’s unfaithfulness. Even if the addressee felt he had found a loyal woman, it would turn out to be an illusion, so the addressee informing the speaker of her existence (and, subsequently, the speaker visiting her) would be a waste of time.

The speaker again expresses his confidence in this belief by elaborating on the hypothetical scenario: even if a woman appeared “true” to the addressee when he met her, and even if the speaker could conveniently meet her “next doore,” she would already have been “false” to two or three people before he managed to meet her.

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