Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Song: ‘Go and catch a falling star’
By John Donne (1572–1631)
 
GO 1 and catch a falling star,
  Get with child a mandrake root, 2
Tell me where all past hours 3 are,
  Or who cleft the Devil’s foot;
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,        5
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
          Or find
          What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.
 
If thou be’st born to strange sights, 4        10
  Things invisible go see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
  Till age snow white hairs on thee.
Thou at thy return wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,        15
          And swear,
          Nowhere
Lives a woman true and fair.
 
If thou find’st one, let me know,
  Such a pilgrimage were sweet;        20
Yet do not, I would not go,
  Though at next door we should meet.
Though she were true when you met her,
And last till you write your letter,
          Yet she        25
          Will be
False, ere I come, to two or three.
 
Note 1. Mr. Gosse very justly says of Donne’s ‘system of prosody:’ “The terms ‘irregular,’ ‘unintelligible,’ and ‘viciously rugged’ are commonly used in describing it, and it seems even to be supposed by some critics that Donne did not know how to scan. This last supposition may be rejected at once; what there was to know about poetry was known to Donne. But it seems certain that he intentionally introduced a revolution into English versification. It was doubtless a rebellion against the smooth and somewhat nerveless iambic flow of Spenser and the earliest contemporaries of Shakespeare, that Donne invented his violent mode of breaking up the line into quick and slow beats.” (Jacobean Poets, 1894.) [back]
Note 2. Mandrake root: Mandragora officinalis, a low plant having a fleshy root often forked, and supposed to resemble a man. It was therefore supposed to have animal life, and to cry out when pulled up. All parts of the plants are strongly narcotic. (Webster.) Cf. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, act iv. sc. 3:
  And shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth
That living mortals hearing them, run mad.
Note 3. Past hours: ed. of 1669 reads, times past. [back]
Note 4. Born to strange sights: i.e., gifted with clairvoyant vision. [back]
 
 
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