GOE, and catche a falling starre,
     Get with child a mandrake roote,
Tell me, where all past yeares are,
     Or who cleft the Divels foot,  
Teach me to heare Mermaides singing,
     Or to keep off envies stinging,
          And finde
          What winde
Serves to advance an honest minde.

If thou beest borne to strange sights,
     Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand daies and nights,
     Till age snow white haires on thee,
Thou, when thou retorn'st, wilt tell mee
All strange wonders that befell thee,
          And sweare
          No where
Lives a woman true, and faire.

If thou findst one, let mee know,
     Such a Pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet doe not, I would not goe,
     Though at next doore wee might meet,
Though shee were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
          Yet shee
          Will bee
False, ere I come, to two, or three.


  1. The speaker claims that even if his audience could find an honest woman, by the time he learned about the woman, she would have betrayed her honesty with two or three other men. This is the final point to the speaker’s misogynistic tirade against women. Not only does he compare honest women to mythological creatures, but also the speaker claims that they are so fickle that they cannot maintain their purity for even the short time it takes to walk next door. Each stanz works to hyperbolically reinforce the speaker’s violent distrust of women. While in Donne’s time this sentiment would have been accepted as humorous or true, this claim should shock modern readers and encourage them to see a distrustful narrator in these lines, rather than a devious woman.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. At the end of the poem, the speaker’s lines are barely coherent. This is quite different from the beginning, where the speaker uses allusions to mythological creatures and creates an image of an epic quest. The broken syntax of this stanza emphasizes the devolution of the speaker’s argument and his rising anger.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. “True” in this context means chaste; “false,” unchaste. The speaker’s anger towards women and negative opinion of their character in this poem seems to come from his perception of women as licentious, or promiscuous.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. A “pilgrimage” is a long-distance journey made to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion. Referring to this search for a “true and fair” woman as a “pilgrimage” suggests that this “search” is an almost religious, or divinely ordained, quest.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. In this second stanza, the speaker qualifies his statements in the first stanza: by no honest minds, he means no honest women. “True” and “fair” mean virtuous in this context. The speaker uses these words and the concept of “honest” to suggest that all women are duplicitous and promiscuous.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. “Wilt” is a second-person–singular-present form of the verb “will.” In this line, the speaker is saying, “you will tell me.” He uses this archaic vocabulary in order to fit the meter of the line.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The convoluted syntax of this line further heightens the reader’s feeling of unfamiliarity. While it’s possible that a verb, such as “put,” has been elided, the text itself invites a reading of the speaker personifying “age.” Age, then, snows white hair on the speaker’s audience, which makes the natural process of aging seem supernatural or otherworldly. In much the same way the speaker bends the familiar concept of aging, he bends the syntax of the line into an unfamiliar English construction.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. “Strange sights” could represent worldly wonders, abnormal events, or things invisible to the human eye. This stanza uses language that connotes adventure, discovery, or expedition. The speaker uses this language to suggest that even if someone sees all of the wonders of the world, they still will not find an honest mind.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Notice that all of the things in this opening stanza represent impossible tasks: catch a falling star, have a child using a mandrake root, understand the history of gods and devils, resist mermaid songs, keep from feeling envy. These impossible things are equated with an “honest mind” in this stanza. So, finding an “honest mind” is just as impossible as all of these mythological impossibilities.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. By “what wind” the speaker means that there is no “wind” that will create an honest mind. In other words, honest minds do not exist, and by extension honest people are akin to mythological creatures.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. A mermaid is a mythological creature that lives in the sea with the head and torso of a human and the tail of a fish. In the early modern period mermaids were thought to entice sailors into drowning, much like the sirens from Homer’s The Odyssey. To learn to “hear mermaids singing” was to learn how to resist the enticing song that enchanted men to their death—a mythological impossibility.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. A “mandrake” is a mythological plant that had a leafy top above ground and a human body below the dirt. When pulled from the ground, the human part of the plant would shriek so terribly that anyone who heard the sound would die. Paradoxically, it was believed that the deadly plant could also help women conceive.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Some critics have read this opening line as a metaphor that encompasses the theme of the poem. A “falling star” can be read as a metaphor for a virginal woman who “falls” from grace by being convinced to be unchaste. So, to “catch a falling star” can be read as catching a woman before she falls. In the context of the other metaphors in this stanza, the speaker suggests that “catching a falling star” is both physically and metaphorically impossible. In other words, it is just as impossible to catch an actual meteor as it is to prevent a woman from becoming unchaste.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff