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John Donne's Song

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In Song, John Donne demonstrates the impossibility of finding the perfect femaleÐ'--being both honest and attractive, using metaphysical contrasts and a gentle, mocking tone. The poem, with its quiet yet bitter cynicism of women, reflect the underlying theme of many of Donne's other works in which he blames the evilness of women for his pain and heartbreak.

The first stanza of the poem is a list of impossible tasksÐ'--all of which Donne compares to finding an honest, good woman. The poem begins with a strong yet impossible commandÐ'--"Go and catch a falling star". Already Donne has demonstrated something that is basically impossible. He does not use fallen but "falling" showing that hope is not all lost and that although the star (often a symbol of hope and faith) is "falling" it has not completely hit the ground dead yet. So, while Donne asks of the impossible he still exhibits hope. He then states to "Get with child a mandrake root". The mandrake is a poisonous and narcotic plant that was formerly falsely used for its roots, which has been said to resemble the human flesh, to promote conception. Supposedly, when pulled from the ground it would let out an awesome shriek and cause death to the person who uprooted it. By using "child" and "mandrake root" Donne exemplifies the deception of the root and the impossibility of getting a child from the root. Also, the mandrake also reflects the lethality of women perceived by Donne. In the third and fourth line, Donne orders the reader to tell him exactly everything about the past and who split the Devil's hoof. Both, including his desire to hear mermaids sing, are mysteries that are impossible to solve. Also, the devil's hoof and mandrake root resemble each other with 3 prongs eachÐ'--symbolizing the multiplicities and deception of women which is furthered by Donne's mention of mermaids, creatures that are women only from the waist up and lure men to death with their beautiful voices (similar to the Sirens in "The Odyssey"). Donne's bitterness is revealed in the sixth to ninth linesÐ'--"Or to keep off envy's stingingÐ' honest mind". The envy he speaks of is the envy of others that lust after another man's woman, and he argues that it is impossible for jealous ones not to torment and compete with the man they are envious ofÐ'--impossible to "keep off envy's stinging." Donne also implies that honesty is never awarded because he has not found a wind that has brought prosperity to the honest mind, something he believes to be impossible to find. In modern day terms, "Nice guys finish last."

In the second stanza Donne implies that no matter how long and far one searches, the perfect woman will never be found. He achieves this by comparing finding that woman to a "strange sight" and uses the paradoxical concept of "Things invisible go see." He is telling the reader to go see something invisible, which is obviously impossible and extremely mocking, much like his first stanze. He then says to the reader that he can "Ride ten thousand days and nights" until his hair turns gray but when he comes back, he will tell tales of all the "strange wonders that befell thee" but he will not have found a woman that is both "true and fair." Donne's diction mocks that of a fairy tale. By using "ten thousand day and nights" and "snow white" Donne plays with a fairy tale tone in the second stanza, obviously to reflect his telling of an imaginary journey but also to add to his argument that a "true and fair" female is only of make-believe stories and tall tales and to find one would be unrealistic.

In the third stanza, Donne shows a slight hint of optimism but quickly recedes back to his cynical state of mind, dismissing women as highly deceptive creatures. He begins by saying to the reader, "If thou find'st one, let me know". If by any small chance the perfect woman is to be found, Donne wants to be the first to know because "such a pilgrimage were sweet". Any flash of hope exhibited by Donne quickly dies in the next lines. The reader sees his thinking pattern when he hastily changes his mindÐ'--"Yet do not; I would not go". Donne explains that although a true and fair woman was to be found he wishes to take no part in seeing her because from the time she is found to the time it takes to write a letter, she will have slept with two or three men. Donne goes far enough to say that "Though at next



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