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John Donne

1
Life
• John Donne (1572 - 1631),
the founder of the
metaphysical school of
poetry and the greatest
representative of the
metaphysical poets, was
born of a family with a
strong Roman Catholic
tradition. He was
educated at the Trinity
College, Cambridge.

2
Life
As a young man he became
secretary to Lord Keeper Egerton. In
1601 he eloped with the niece of
Lord Keeper and was imprisoned
by the girl's father. For several
years after his release, he lived in
poverty. But during this time he wrote
some of his most beautiful poems,
many of which were believed to have
been written to his wife. These were
known as his youthful love lyrics.

3
Life
In 1615 he gave up
Catholic faith and
entered the Anglican
Church and soon
became Dean of
Saint Paul's Church.
As the most famous
preacher during the
time, he wrote many
religious sermons and
poems. And these
were known as his John Donne’s House
sacred verses.
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The Background of John Donne’s Age

Politics
• John Donne‘s life1572-1631spanned across two
dynasties- House of Tudor and House of Stuart.
The Tudors extended their power beyond
England, achieving the full union of England in
1542.The Tudor line failed in 1603 with the
death of Elizabeth I. Then James I inherited the
throne and began the house of Stuart, which
publicized the ideas of “divine right of kings”and
launched absolute feudal reign, which greatly
hindered the development of capitalism
Culture and Thoughts

• The Renaissance began in the 13th


century and reached its peak at the 16th
century in Europe. People ‘s thoughts
ventured away from the restriction of
feudal belief of god and religion, and
became more realistic and human. This
was a great emancipation, which led to the
works by people such as Francis Bacon
and Shakespeare.
Just So You Know…
• He is hailed as the “Monarch of Wit”
(Dickson xi).

• He wrote FIVE different types of poems:


– Satires
– Elegies
– Verse Letters
– Songs & Sonnets
– Holy Sonnets or “Divine Poems”
Satires
• Dealt with common Elizabethan topics,
such as corruption in the legal system.
• They also dealt with the problem of true
religion, a matter of great importance to
Donne.
Three stages of Donne’s Poetry
Not necessarily chronological, but an easy way to categorize Donne’s works.
1. The young “Jack Donne:” reflected by a
misogynistic, lusty, and cynical persona in his
early poetry (“The Flea,” “The Bait,” and Go and
Catch a Falling Star”);
2. The courting / married lover: reflected by a
Neoplatonic ideal of transcendent love- but a
love also founded in the physical (“A Valediction
Forbidding Mourning” and “The Ecstasy”)
3. Dr. Donne, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral:
religious poetry (Holy Sonnets) and prose
(“Meditation 17”) that sometimes praises,
sometimes struggles with God’s transcendent
perfection.
2.2. Metaphysical poets
• The name is given to a diverse group of 17th
century English poets whose work is notable for
the use of intellectual and theological concepts
in surprising conceits, strange paradoxes, and
far-fetched imagery. Metaphysics refers to the
philosophy of knowledge and existence. John
Donne was the leading Metaphysical poet;
others include George Herbert, Henry Vaughan,
Andrew Marvell, and Abraham Cowley.
The main features of metaphysical poetry
can be summarized as the following:
• Wit or conceit is commonly used, but the wit or
conceit is so odd that the reader usually loses
sight of the thing to be illustrated.
• The theme is peculiar. it is illumined or
emphasized by fantastic metaphors and
extravagant hyperboles.
• Sensuality is blended with philosophy, passion
with intellect, and contraries are ever moving
one into the other.
• Complex rhythms are used.
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Characteristics of Metaphysical
Poetry
With a rebellious spirit, the metaphysical poets
tried to break away from the conventional
fashion of the Elizabethan love poetry. The
diction is simple and echoes the words and
cadences of common speech. The imagery is
drawn from the actual life. The form is
frequently that of an argument with the poet’s
beloved, with God, or with himself.
Metaphysical Conceit
In Donnes day, conceit simply meant: idea.
• Metaphysical Conceit: combination of
heterogeneous ideas yoked together by violence
that is sustained throughout the poem.
• an extended metaphor that combines two vastly
different ideas into a single idea, often using
imagery.
• One of the most famous of Donne's conceits is
found in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"
where he compares two lovers who are separated
to the two legs of a compass.
2.3. Conceit
• From the Italian concetto, "concept" or "idea';
used in Renaissance poetry to mean a precise
and detailed comparison of something more
remote or abstract with something more present
or concrete, and often detailed through a chain
of metaphors or similes. Conceits were closely
linked to emblems, to the degree that the verbal
connection between the emblem picture and its
meaning, was detailed in an interpretative
conceit.
Paradox
• What is paradox?
– An apparently untrue or self-contradictory
statement or circumstance that proves true
upon reflection or when examined in another
light.
Argumentative Form
• Donne's poetry involves a certain kind of
argument, sometimes in rigid syllogistic form. He
seems to be speaking to an imagined hearer,
raising the topic and trying to persuade, convince
or upbraid him. With the brief, simple language, the
argument is continuous throughout the poem.
• The poems forms force the reader to trace the
argument throughout the entire poem.
• They always have a surface level meaning, and
then an implication (explore some sort of conflict)
Metaphysical Poetry-
Definition(1)
• By itself, metaphysical means dealing with the
relationship between spirit to matter or the ultimate
nature of reality. The Metaphysical poets are
obviously not the only poets to deal with this subject
matter, so there are a number of other qualities
involved as well:
• Use of ordinary speech mixed with puns,
paradoxes and conceits (a paradoxical metaphor
causing a shock to the reader by the strangeness of
the objects compared; some examples: lovers and a
compass, the soul and timber, the body and mind)
Metaphysical Poetry- Definition
(2)
• The exaltation of wit, which in the 17th century meant
a nimbleness of thought; a sense of fancy (imagination
of a fantastic or whimsical nature); and originality in
figures of speech
• Abstruse terminology often drawn from science or law
• Often poems are presented in the form of an
argument
• In love poetry, the metaphysical poets often draw on
ideas from Renaissance Neo-Platonism to show the
relationship between the soul and body and the union o
lovers' souls
• In media res
Go and Catch a Falling Star [1]
• 1. It is a song from John Donne's collection Songs and
Sonnets, in which all pieces could be sung out. Also, it is
one of John Donne's negative love poems. The main idea is
that there is no true love in the world. It consists of three
parts. The first part shows that everything listed here is
impossible. The second part says that anywhere and
anytime people couldn't find true love. In the third part, the
poet says that even if the impossible things were proved
possible he couldn't believe it.
The rhythm of the poem deviates from the conventional
poems of the time. It consists of 3 nine-lined stanzas. With
the exception of the 7th and 8th lines, the poem is written in
iambic tetrameter and the 5th and 6th lines end with a
feminine ending. The rhyme scheme is abab ccdd d.
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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
2. Line 1: This is an uncommon abrupt
Go, and catch a falling star [2], beginning of a poem. The verbs
“ go ” and “ catch ” here indicate
Get with child a mandrake root [3], that the poem is addressed to
some listener. To catch a falling
Tell me, where all past years are [4], star is impossible.

Or who cleft the Devil's foot [5],

Teach me to hear Mermaids singing [6],

Or to keep off envy's stinging [7],

And find

What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star

Go, and catch a falling star [2],


3. Line 2: Mandrake is a type of
plant from which drugs may be
Get with child a mandrake root [3],
made, especially those causing
sleep. The mandrake root is
Tell me, where all past years are [4], forked like the lower part of the
male body. According to the
Or who cleft the Devil's foot [5], Bible, the female could beget a
child on a mandrake root. The
normal order of the sentence is
Teach me to hear Mermaids singing [6], “ Get a mandrake with child ” .
But to get a mandrake with
Or to keep off envy's stinging [7], child is a supreme impossibility.

And find

What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star

Go, and catch a falling star [2],

Get with child a mandrake root [3], 4. Line 3: It is similar to one


famous sentence given by
Tell me, where all past years are [4], the medieval French poet
Villon “ Mais ou sont les
neiges d'antan ” , which
Or who cleft the Devil's foot [5], means “ Where has last
year's snow gone? ” It is a
Teach me to hear Mermaids singing [6], question impossible to
answer.
Or to keep off envy's stinging [7],

And find

What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star

Go, and catch a falling star [2],

Get with child a mandrake root [3],

Tell me, where all past years are [4],


5. Line 4: cleft: the past form of
cleave. It is believed that the
Or who cleft the Devil's foot [5], foot of the Devil is like that of
the ox or the sheep. There is
Teach me to hear Mermaids singing [6], no possible answer to this
question.
Or to keep off envy's stinging [7],

And find

What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star

Go, and catch a falling star [2],

Get with child a mandrake root [3],

Tell me, where all past years are [4],


6. Line 5: Mermaids are
imaginary sea creatures.
Or who cleft the Devil's foot [5],
Here it refers to the siren
who enchanted Odysseus
Teach me to hear Mermaids singing [6], and his seamen (cf.
Homer's Odyssey). There
Or to keep off envy's stinging [7], is no way to hear the
mermaids' singing.
And find

What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star

Go, and catch a falling star [2],

Get with child a mandrake root [3],

Tell me, where all past years are [4],

Or who cleft the Devil's foot [5],

Teach me to hear Mermaids singing [6],

Or to keep off envy's stinging [7], 7. Line 6: “ envy's stinging ”


means the biting of
And find people's envy. Envy here is
half personified, referring to
What wind the person who envies
others. Actually in the world,
Serves to advance an honest mind. nobody is free from
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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou beest borne to strange sights [8],

Things invisible to see [9],


8. Line 10: If you are born with a
strange gift that enables you
Ride ten thousand days and nights [10], to see sights that are rare.
beest: be'st, be.
Till age snow [11] white hairs on thee,

Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me[12]

All strange wonders that befell [13] thee,

And swear [14]

No where

Lives a woman true, and fair [15].


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou beest borne to strange sights [8],
9. Line 11: It is the appositive
phrase of “ sights ” in the
Things invisible to see [9], above line. Another
explanation is that “ things
Ride ten thousand days and nights [10], invisible to see ” is in the
inverted order, and that the
Till age snow [11] white hairs on thee, normal order should be “ to
see invisible things ” .
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me[12]

All strange wonders that befell [13] thee,

And swear [14]

No where

Lives a woman true, and fair [15].


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou beest borne to strange sights [8],

Things invisible to see [9], 10. Line 12: There are two
explanations for it. One
says that the verb “ ride ”
Ride ten thousand days and nights [10], indicates the imperative
sentence; the other says
Till age snow [11] white hairs on thee, that “ ride ” means “ if
you ride ” .
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me[12]

All strange wonders that befell [13] thee,

And swear [14]

No where

Lives a woman true, and fair [15].


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou beest borne to strange sights [8],

Things invisible to see [9],

Ride ten thousand days and nights [10],


11. snow: whiten the hair of
Till age snow [11] white hairs on thee,

Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me[12] 12. Line 14: return'st:
return; wilt: will
All strange wonders that befell [13] thee,
13. befell: happened to
And swear [14]

No where 14. And swear: And wilt


swear: And will swear.
Lives a woman true, and fair [15].
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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou beest borne to strange sights [8],

Things invisible to see [9],

Ride ten thousand days and nights [10],

Till age snow [11] white hairs on thee,

Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me[12]


15. Lines 17 ~ 18: All beautiful
All strange wonders that befell [13] thee, women are inconstant. The
comma after “ true ”
And swear [14] indicates a pause here,
emphasizing that no woman
No where enjoys the two kinds of
virtue, true and fair, at the
Lives a woman true, and fair [15]. same time. fair: beautiful
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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou find’st [16] one, let me know,
16. find'st: find
Such a Pilgrimage [17] were sweet;
17. a Pilgrimage: a journey to
Yet do not, I would not go, some holy place, used
sarcastically.
Though at next door we [18] might meet,

Though she were true, when you met her [19],

And last, till you write your letter [20],

Yet she

Will be

False, ere I come, to two, or three [21].


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou find’st [16] one, let me know,

Such a Pilgrimage [17] were sweet; 18. we: such a true


female and I
Yet do not, I would not go,

Though at next door we [18] might meet,

Though she were true, when you met her [19],

And last, till you write your letter [20], 19. Line 23: In the early
English, the world
Yet she “ though ” could be
used to introduce the
Will be subjunctive mood.

False, ere I come, to two, or three [21].


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou find’st [16] one, let me know,

Such a Pilgrimage [17] were sweet;

Yet do not, I would not go,

Though at next door we [18] might meet,

Though she were true, when you met her [19],

And last, till you write your letter [20], 20. Line 24: And her
constancy could only last
Yet she till you write her first letter.
And last: And (her
Will be constancy) will last

False, ere I come, to two, or three [21].


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Go, and Catch a Falling Star
If thou find’st [16] one, let me know,

Such a Pilgrimage [17] were sweet;

Yet do not, I would not go,

Though at next door we [18] might meet,

Though she were true, when you met her [19],

And last, till you write your letter [20],


21. Lines 25 ~ 27: Before I
Yet she come to be her new
lover again, she will
have betrayed another
Will be two or three. false:
unfaithful; ere: before
False, ere I come, to two, or three [21].
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