Go And Catch A Falling Star by John Donne
Table of Contents
Go And Catch A Falling Star is a light playful song in which the poet expresses his distrust of womankind and asserts, somewhat sarcastically, that it is as impossible to find a faithful woman as to catch a falling star.
Summary of Go And Catch A Falling Star
The reader may go to catch a falling star, and get a child out of a mandrake’s roots. One may tell the poet of his past years, and of the maker of the Devil’s cleft foot. He or she may teach him of hearing the song of mermaids or to keep off the stinging of envies and to find out what wind serves to advance an honest mind.
Stanza 1 Analysis
To catch a falling star is impossible. Equally impossible is to have a human body from the root of a mandrake plant (that seems to have a human shape). It is also impossible to be definite where the past years have gone or who could first cleave the Devil’s feet. It is no less impossible to make one hear the music of the mermaid (an imaginary sea-creature), to change the human nature (so as to ignore the sting of jealousy), or to find out the climate in which man becomes honest.
(Like all these impossible matters, a fair and faithful woman is impossible)
If the reader be taken to have strange sights, could see invisible things, if he could ride ten thousand days and nights till age (brought) snow white hairs on him, he will tell the poet, when he returns, all strange wonders that befell him and (he will) swear that a woman, true and fair, lives nowhere.
Stanza 2 Analysis
If a person would be born to have strange visions or the power to see even invisible matters, if he is capable of riding continuously ten thousands days and nights, till his hair has all turned snow-white, and, after returning from his travel, speaks of all the wonderful experiences and events that happened to him, even then he will not be able to swear solemnly that he ever could see a woman, both fair and constant.
(Despite one’s wide-spread and long travel and experience, one is unable to find anywhere a fair and faithful woman)
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If he (the reader) finds one (such woman), let the poet know (this), for such a pilgrimage would be sweet. Yet, he does not (inform him), for he (the poet) will not go, though they might meet (her) at (the) next door. When he met her, though she was true (then), and last (to remain true) till he writes his letter. Yet, ere the poet comes, she will be false to two or three (lovers).
Stanza 3 Analysis
If such a woman (both fair and true) is found anywhere, the poet will be glad to know and go there as a sort of pilgrimage. Yet, the poet forbids to send any such message, as he will not go, even if she stays very close. After all, such a journey will prove futile, for the woman might be true when she was met, and would remain so, when the report was sent, but she will turn false to more than one lover before the poet can come to meet her.
(Faithlessness is natural to womanly nature, and so no fair woman can remain constant for long.)
Theme of Go And Catch A Falling Star
The theme of the song, Go And Catch A Falling Star is the poet’s utter disbelief in womanly constancy. His contention is clear and categorical. There can be found nowhere a woman, true and fair.
Lives a woman true, and faire.”
The poet’s theme of the lack of constancy in women smacks of Shakespearean Hamlet’s assertion “Frailty, thy name is woman.” Of course, his tone is not as serious and somber as Hamlet’s. But he beats his point by a number of arguments. He refers to some hard feats which are impossible to accomplish. He mentions in particular a falling star. To aspire after catching a falling star is never possible. To perceive a woman, with fidelity, is equally impossible. What the poet emphasizes is that womanly inconstancy is so general and all-pervasive that it is impossible to have a woman, both fair and honest, just as it is impossible to catch a falling star. To catch a falling star is an utter impossibility. Donne’s theme lays down that it is no less impossible to find out any woman, both fair and faithful.
Of course, Donne’s charge is more specific than general. He speaks of the woman who is fair, and contends that such a woman can never be sincere and faithful. What he implies is that constancy is absent in a woman, particularly if she is lovely and attractive. Perhaps, he means to say that such a woman easily draws many men and naturally she hardly sticks to a single lover, but moves from one to another.
The theme is, thus, all about the inconstancy of women. The first line of the song ‘Goe and catch a falling star’ is an implication of the impossibility of getting a woman, both fair and true.
But this theme should not interpret the poet as a misogynist Donne’s song is in a quite light, playful mood, and his allegation against feminine constancy need not be taken too seriously. His love poetry is found manifested in diverse moods. Here is one mood in which the poet is wittily and amusingly critical of womanly virtue. That is what makes his theme rather amusingly hard to womankind.
Title of Go And Catch A Falling Star
The title is the very first line of Donne’s song-
“Go And Catch A Falling Star.”
But this first line is related to the main contention of the song. It signifies what is thoroughly impossible. No one can go and catch a star. To make such an effort is to run after a sheer absurdity that leads to impossibility.
This impossibility has a quite meaningful implication in the song. The poet’s assertion is inconstancy in womanly nature. He claims that it is as impossible to find a woman, true and fair, as to catch a falling star. There are numerous feats, impossible to accomplish. To fancy to attain such a feat, like catching a falling star, is totally incredible. But equally incredible is to find a woman, who, despite her beauty, remains constant and true. From this angle, the first line of the song is a fine reference to the theme, and remains felicitous as the title.
Go And Catch A Falling Star Line by Line Analysis
Title: Goe and catche a falling starre- to go for catching a dropping star. The suggestion is to go for what is impossible.
Goe, and catche…….starre-go and catch a falling star. To catch a star is impossible. Make the effort to accomplish what is impossible-catching a dropping star. The implication here is to try for an impossibility.
Get with child-have a child out of. A mandrake roote-the root of a mandrake plant. The mandrake has the shape of a human being. Its root is supposed to add to the fertility of women. Get with child…….root-to bring a child out of a mandrake plant. This is, again, an impossible task, for, in no way, a mandrake plant is made to bear a child. Tell me-relate. Yeares-years. Tell me…are-to speake out or inform where the past years have gone. Men do not know where the passing years vanish. To tell where the past years have gone is another piece of impossibility. Cleft-split. Cleft the Divel’s foot-the Devill is popularly painted as having a divided hoof, like a goat, Who cleft the divels foot-the reason for the popular version of the devil’s cleft foot is not known. Who did cleave the devil’s foot? This is impossible to ascertain. So to tell who did cleave the devil’s foot is a matter of impossibility. Teach me-instruct or inform the poet. To heare– to listen. Mermaids– those were imagined sea-creatures, with the body of the maid and the fish. The upper portion of the body was of a woman and the lower part of a fish. Mermaides singing-mermaids were supposed to sing to cheer Odysseus during his long and dull voyage on the sea. Teach me……..singing-to listen to the song of mermaids is also an impossible task. Keep off-avoid. Envies-jealousy. Stinging-causing pains. To keep of……. stinging to remain free from the pang, caused by envy. Men, in general, are the poor victims of envy. So to keep off the stings of envy is an impossible element in human nature. And finde what winds-to find out what wind. ‘Wind’ here indicates the climatic condition. Serves to prove useful for. Advance-develop, promote. An honest minde-honesty in mind. And find….minde-to determine what climatic conditions or seasons serve to promote the virtue of honesty in a mind. This is, again, another impossible element.
N.B. The poet gives here a list of impossible tasks in the human world. Men may well aspire after them, but these are all impossible for them to accomplish.
Of course, the poet’s suggestion is that to find a woman, both fair and true, is as impossible as those very tasks.
If thou-the poet refers to any person. Beest borne-was born. To strange sights-to have the power to view strange things. Things invisible-things which are not normally visible. If thou…..see-if a person was born with the gift to visualise strange things and see even invisible matters. To visualize strange things and to view what is invisible are impossible to achieve by any human power. Daies-days. Ride ten….night-continue to ride for a very long, almost impossible time. Till age…..thee-until the hairs become as white as snow due to old age (haires-hairs), Snow white-a metaphorical expression, as white as snow. Thou-the person concerned or reader. Will tell mee-will tell me; will tell the poet. All strange wonders-all strange and wonderful things. That befell thee-that might have happened to him. Thou, when thou…….befell thee-when the person will return, after his very long travel, he will relate all the strange and wonderful events and experiences that happened to him. And sweare-will take a solemn oath. No where…..faire-there could not be found anywhere a fair and faithful woman. The poet’s contention is sharp and straight that there can nowhere be seen a woman, who is both true and fair.
N.B. With his characteristic metaphysical precision and logic, Donne reaches here his central point that a woman, true and fair, is very rare.
In the previous stanza, this is merely suggested, but here it is asserted.
If thou findst one-if such a woman is traced. Let mee know– the poet likes very much to know of the existence of such a woman. A pilgrimage-a visit to a holy or sacred place. Such a pilgrimage were sweet-the poet is quite eager to visit such a woman. To him this is as pleasant as making a pilgrimage to a holy place. A fair and faithful woman is very rare. To visit a rare thing is something sacred and pleasant. So the poet is all eager to go and see such a rare woman. Yet doe not-at the very next moment, the poet forbids (to give him the information of such a woman). I would not go-he gives his reason. He will not go to see the woman. At next doore-very close. We might meet-she may be met. Yet doe not……might meet-the poet does not want the information, for he will not go to see the woman, even if she is available in the very next house. Though shee……etc. This is the poet’s justification for not visiting the woman. Though………true- the lady might be constant and true. When you….her- when the person came across her. And last-her constancy might last. Till you…… letter-till the information about her was sent. Yet shee…….or three-the poet remains strongly doubtful of her fidelity. He even believes that in no time she will receive a number of men and prove inconstant according to usual feminine frailty. So he fears that when he will reach her place, she is likely to cease to be true and constant in her attachment.
N.B. Donne is more assertive here. After his previous statement that a true and fair woman is rare, he argues here that a woman’s fidelity is very cheap, and does not last even between sending information and making the visit for verification.
“Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil’s foot,
“Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
Serves to advance an honest mind.”
This forms the opening lines of John Donne’s song that begins with the line “Go And Catch A Falling Star”.
This song is a sarcastic glance at womanly inconstancy, of course in a light mood. To assert that a constant and fair woman is impossible to get, the poet here refers to some matters which are quite impossible to achieve.
The poet begins with the silliness of the hope for catching a dropping star. No star will fall and no one can catch it. The whole idea is absurd and can never be realized. Similarly, it is not at all possible to have a child from the root of a mandrake plant, that has a human shape. Such an impossible task is to assert where all bygone years have gone or who did cleave the Devil’s foot that was supposed to have a divided hoof like a goat’s. To hear the music of the mermaid, an imaginary sea- creature, with the upper portion of the body of a maid and the lower portion of a fish, is equally an impossibility. Again, the sting of jealousy is too common in human nature and to keep this off is impossible indeed. No less impossible is to determine the climatic effect on a mind and predict in what climate or season a mind can be turned honest.
In a quite entertaining manner, with the play of wit and fun, Donne states the cases of impossibility. His list of impossible tasks is interesting enough. What is more, it is intellect, and not emotion, that runs all over the lines and marks his metaphysical intellectualism.
“If thou be’st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
Lives a woman true, and fair.”
The extracted portion occurs in Donne’s song that runs with the first
“Go And Catch A Falling Star”
While asserting that there lives nowhere any woman, true and fair, the poet cites some rare and wonderful things. These are related here.
The poet contends that a person might have been born with a wonderful power of sight. He can view, for instance, strange and uncommon things or visualize what is invisible. Again, he may ride long and extensively for ten thousand days and nights till his hair has all grown grey under the burden of age. On his return from his journey, he will report all his eventful experiences and various intercourses. But he will not be able to swear solemnly that he came across anywhere a woman, both fair and faithful. What Donne asserts is simple and straight-‘No where can be seen a woman, true and fair’.
The lines contain Donne’s main theme that is struck in the last two lines of the stanza. His point of assertion is that women are by nature fickle and faithless, particularly when they are fair. His reference to all strange wonders that befell a traveler is witty enough.
“If thou find’st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet;
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
False, ere I come, to two, or three.”
This is the concluding stanza of John Donne’s song, starting with the line-
“Go And Catch A Falling Star”
The contention of the poem is that no woman, who is fair, can be true and constant. Womanly inconstancy is here particularly emphasized.
The poet has already claimed that ‘no where lives a woman, true and fair’. In an entertaining vein, he now points out that, if such a woman, both fair and sincere, exists anywhere, he should be informed forthwith. He is eager to meet such a woman, no doubt a rare feat. To meet such a woman appears to him as delightful as going to a holy place for his pilgrimage. But, at the very next moment, he changes his intention. He forbids to send any information to him of any such woman. This is because he will never go to see her, even if she stays very close to him. After all, this fair lady might be true when she was first seen. She might have remained so, even when the information about her was sent. But the poet is quite definite that, before his arrival to meet her, she will turn false and deceive more than one lover by her flirting.
The passage marks the poet’s unequivocal assertion that fair women are ever false. Of course, his mood is rather light, though sarcastic. What is more is his practical, intellectual approach in which all emotional exuberances are well restrained. Metaphysical intellectualism, marked with precision, logic and wit, is all evident here.