The Indifferent by John Donne

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Synopsis

John Donne’s “The Indifferent” is a 27-line lyric poem dealing with secular love. It was first printed in Poems, By J. D. with Elegies on the Authors Death (1633), although it circulated, in various versions, in a number of manuscripts before and after that date. Robin Robbins, a recent editor, guesses that the poem may perhaps have been written in the early 1590s.

In this poem, a male speaker begins by asserting that he is capable of loving a woman with a light complexion and woman with a dark complexion. He can love a rich woman and a poor woman. He can love a woman who likes being alone or a woman who enjoys social events. He can love a woman from a rural area or a woman raised in a city. He can love a woman who is ready to believe men’s claims and one who must test such claims before believing. He can love a woman who is constantly weeping, and he can love a woman who never weeps. He seems to point to a variety of different specific women and says that he is capable of loving any single one of them—just as long as that woman is not faithful.

In the second stanza, he asks women why they cannot be content with old vices but must instead invent new ones (such as faithfulness). Do they perhaps worry that men may be faithful? He assures women that men are not faithful, and he urges women not to be faithful either. He gives one particular woman permission to “know” (including sexually) twenty men and gives himself permission to “know” twenty women. He does not want to be bound to one woman; he wants his freedom. Women, he asserts, make men work (perhaps in bed; certainly because of the curse of the Biblical fall). Does the particular woman mentioned earlier now want him to lose his independence just because she claims she is faithful?

In the third stanza, the speaker announces that Venus, the goddess of secular love, overheard him speaking and declared that she had never before heard anything similar. She decided that faithfulness in women should be prohibited. Venus left briefly, only to return and report that while there did seem to be several women who actually wanted to be faithful, she advised them...

(The entire section is 575 words.)