Image featuring John Donne for the poem analysis of Go and Catch a Falling Star

Go And Catch A Falling Star by John Donne: Quickest and Easiest Meaning and summary

John Donne is one of the most read and well-known poets, known to have revolutionized the branch of metaphysical poetry. His poems are a mix of different styles, meters, and rhyme patterns. “Go and Catch a Falling Star” is one such poem that will be discussed in this article. 

“Go and Catch a Falling Star” talks about the supposed infidelity of a woman, according to the poet John Donne. As poetry lovers, we were completely pulled in opposite directions while reading this poem, and so will you. 

One direction appreciates the beautiful descriptions, the metaphysical aspects, the rhyming, and the brilliant poetic way of rhetoric used by Donne. 

The other direction is the completely unbearable misogynistic view that Donne has for women. Donne was a womanizer himself, and a treatise on women’s character by him is something we find impossible to swallow. 

Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the meaning, analysis, and literary devices used.  

Go and Catch a Falling Star by

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,
            And find
            What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

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,
            And swear,
            No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.

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,
            Yet she
            Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.
-John Donne

Meaning and Summary

The meaning of the poem “Go Catch a Falling Star” is just a person complaining about the latent, ulterior motives of women. This poem might come off as a little misogynistic and it definitely does not portray women in a good light. 

But it is the case with almost every poem by John Donne. Perhaps there was a woman who broke his heart to such an extent and with such cruelty, that he turned into a poet with only one intention; to talk about how women have ruined his life. 

In this poem, John Donne is saying that it might be possible to do things that are considered impossible, but it is truly impossible to find a woman who will be faithful. 

Each stanza in this poem talks about getting something impossible done, but finding a woman who stays faithful to one man is impossible. You can catch a falling star, or a child with mandrake root, but not a woman who will only love you. 

While the message is misleading, and outright wrong (unless you have been heartbroken), the poetic way John Donne has expressed this message is worth noting. Let’s look at the analysis of the poem to understand it better. 

Stanza Analysis

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,

The first stanza shows the beauty with which the lines have been crafted. Donne is asking to do impossible tasks such as catching a falling star, or tell me where the past years (time that has passed) are, or who cleft the devil’s foot. 

“Tell me where all the past years are” is a beautiful way of expressing something impossible. Where is the past? While we know when the future is coming, no one knows where the past goes. 

Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

Or to keep off envy’s stinging,

            And find

            What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.

It is said that mermaids have a very beautiful voice, but no one has ever heard one sing. Perhaps Donne is referring to the mythical creature called “Sirens” who sing, but also lure people to kill them, hence, no one has ever heard a siren sing and live to tell the tale. 

But in this case, it can be done. He says that it is also possible to learn the ability to not feel the pain of envy and find the “wind” or force that makes an honest mind move ahead. 

A little explanation; “Serves to advance an honest mind” refers to the idea that people who are cunning or sly can only find success or advance in their lives. Honest people do not end up in good places in an evil world.

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,

Ride for ten thousand days and nights, find the strangest things that no one has ever seen. But even if you do this, till age has turned your hair white, you still cannot find one thing (we guess you already know what!)

Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,

All strange wonders that befell thee,

            And swear,

            No where

Lives a woman true, and fair.

When you return after this journey of thousands of days and nights that even though you saw so many things that would be a shock to the eyes, you still would not find a woman who is true and fair. 

This means that it’s impossible to find a woman who is both fair (beautiful) and true. A beautiful woman is always false in the heart. She would always cheat and never be truthful to you. It is what John Donne says here. 

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,

            Yet she

            Will be

False, ere I come, to two, or three.

The last stanza is the most interesting one in terms of the message and the writing style. John Donne says that even if you find a girl who is both beautiful and true, or loyal in this fantastical journey of yours, I do not wish to come and meet her. 

The reason for that is while she might have been true when the traveler met her, by the time he writes a letter to inform John Donne about her, she would have already been with two or even three. 

Donne says that by the time he is informed about this girl, she might already be with two or three men. What a harsh way of defining all women! Well, to John Donne we ask; Who hurt you so badly? 

Literary Devices

Enjambment– A few examples of Enjambment from the poem are:

And find

            What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.

And swear,

            No where

Lives a woman true, and fair.

 Yet she

            Will be

False, ere I come, to two, or three.

Sibilance– The poet uses sibilance in the poem to create the effect of hissing sound and add rhythm to the poem. For example:

Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

Or to keep off envy’s stinging,

Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be’st born to strange sights,

Apostrophe– The poet uses apostrophe to direct the attention of the readers to someone who is not present in the poem. For example:

If thou be’st born to strange sights

Till age snow white hairs on thee,

Though she were true, when you met her,

And last, till you write your letter,

Alliteration– A few examples of Alliteration from the poem include:

Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

6Or to keep off envy’s stinging,

What wind

f thou be’st born to strange sights,

Repetition– A few examples of repetition from the poem include “thou”, “you”, “though”, and “meet”.

Rhyme Scheme– There is a definite and consistent rhyming scheme in the poem “Go and Catch a Falling Star”. Each stanza runs the rhyming scheme of ABABCCDDD. This rhyming pattern makes the poem move forward with a gentle and light tone.

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