Thursday, March 31, 2011

John Donne: 1572--March 31, 1631

One of the common themes of Elizabethan and Renaissance love poetry was the unfaithfulness of the opposite sex. Many poems by male poets bewailed the heartbreak caused by the unfaithful woman. Woman were just not to be trusted. While we don't have as much poetry from women, we do find the same themes about the unfaithfulness of men.

John Donne has his share of this type of poetry, but one of his makes me wonder whether this might be more of a stock topic than a real problem. The following poem wanders down the same path as the traditional poems do, until the twist at the end. I had to go back and reread it, just to be sure I hadn't misinterpreted it. And then, I went back and reread the complete poem, this time knowing where it was going. It's a great poem--

Womans constancy

Now thou hast lov'd me one whole day.
To morrow when thou leav'st, what wilt thou say?
Wilt thou then Antedate some new made vow?
Or say that now
We are not just those persons, which we were?
Or, that oathes made in reverentiall feare
Of Love, and his wrath, any may foreswear?
Or, as true deaths, true marriages untie,
So lovers contracts, images of those,
Binde but till sleep, deaths image, them unloose?
Or your owne end to Justifie,
For having purpos'd change, and falsehood; you
Can have no way but falsehood to be true?
Vaine lunatique, against these scapes I could
Dispute, and conquer, if I would,
Which I abstain to doe,
For by to morrow, I may thinke so too.

A great first line,
as well as that last one.


  1. The last line made me laugh. Great poem!

  2. Cheryl,

    Yes, isn't it! I remember the first time, I just sat there and laughed--he had reversed the entire poem with that one line.

    Donne did such a beautiful job setting us up with that marvelous first line--"Now thou hast lov'd me one whole day" (sarcasm dripping from every letter)--we just know it's going to be a classic lover's lament, which he carries through all the way, until the last line when he shows us he's probably as fickle as she is.