Song: Goe, and catche a falling starre

Elizabethan ladyThe song is a light-hearted but very witty joke aimed at women. It is, of course, very sexist, but it is not meant to be taken seriously. Woman's inconstancy is a traditional theme. The Elizabethans were always complaining about fickle mistresses. Donne broadens the topic to women in general. At best, we could say Donne is a disillusioned idealist; at worst, a cynical young man.


The song has three nine-line stanzas, basically in trochaic tetrameters, but with the seventh and eighth lines actually half-lines, with only one foot in each. As they rhyme together with the final line, the three rhymes falling close together produce quite a light-hearted ending to each stanza.

The trochaic opening is explosive: ‘Goe....!' Who is to go? Whoever. No one in particular is addressed, but Donne always has a strong sense of audience.

Seven impossible tasks

The first stanza lists seven impossible tasks (a little like the Labours of Hercules). The first five are jokes (a mandrake is a plant with a forked root, said to look like a human being). The sixth speaks of envy, getting nearer to the bone, and the seventh hits home: how is an honest person to get on in what is depicted as a very corrupt society?

This corruption is most clearly seen in the stated impossibility of finding ‘a woman true, and faire'. The punch lies in the ‘and'. Either on its own may not be impossible; both together are. Again, Donne jokes about an impossible search: whatever else is found (if anything), it won't include an honest pretty woman. The opening ‘If' is stressed.

The punch line

Donne's cynical joke is completed in the final stanza. Even if, by some miracle, a true and fair woman was to be found next-door, by the time the speaker was told about her, she would have been ‘False, ere I come, to two, ... ' The punch comes in the casual comma after ‘two'. We know the rhyme needs something to finish in -ee, and what should come but ‘three'.

Investigating Goe and catch a falling star
  • Read Goe and catch a falling star
    • Why is the final effort a ‘Pilgrimage'?
    • How does Donne build up the punch line to each stanza?
    • Is the poem really sexist?
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.