Analysis of a Poem Message by John Donne

Categories: John Donne


The poem is set out in stanzas, not paragraphs. The three stanzas are of equal length, although the line length differs within the stanzas. The author charts out in three stages his mortal acceptance of the rejection in love. Each stanza representing a time, depict to the suffering. Lines 1, L2, are of equal length in each stanza and consist of eight syllables, inform ably an iambic tetrameter. In the following two stanzas these lines do not differ unlike line 3, which invariably changes from an iambic tetrameter in the first stanza to seven syllables in L11.

Then, L19 has nine syllables within it. Lines 4 and L5 are of equal length in each stanza and consist of four syllables and do not differ in the following stanzas. Similar are lines 6 and L7 except they consist of three syllables. Line 9 and L16 has nine syllables but changes to eight syllables in the last line, L24.

The rhyme-scheme is mainly rhyming couplets; i.e., every two lines, with the exception of line 3 which rhymes with line 8, L11 which rhymes with L16 in the second stanza. Then in the third stanza L19 which rhymes with L24.

The Message begins using a 4 x 4 metre pattern in L1 and 2, incorporating of a rising duple. L3 changes to a falling triple then a rising triple in L4, L5, L6 and L7. Finally, L8 changes to co-inside with L3 as a falling triple.

In Lines 4 and L5, the speaker has seemingly squeezed a four syllable line into a triple metre and repeated this in L12 and L13 in the second stanza and then L20 and L21 in the third stanza.

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Consequently, this shows much tension of feelings on the speaker's behalf.

Donne plays with words in order to change the form and flow of the poem. In L4 he abbreviates 'forc'd' in order to maximise the syllables within the line to four. The flow is quite harsh and consequently the words feel forced out of the speakers mouth, subsequently, identifying with the speakers pain. The speaker changes the flow into a more direct form of speech in L6 and L7 with a flowing triple within lines of three syllables. This is repeated in the second stanza and third stanza in lines 14, L15, L22 and L23.

Lines 3 and 9, which rhyme with one another, sound difficult to speak in the first stanza. Then in the second stanza L16 flows much simpler, followed by a change in L24 of rhyming metre, from a triple to a 4 x 4 which flows much smoother. The flow seems to formulate the octave of the speaker coming to terms with the hurt and pain they have suffered.


The language is quite colloquial which sometimes slants into a heightened poetic diction, seemingly, when the speaker expresses more heightened emotions to the reader; (L20) "Art in anguish", which is also language one may use to pray. The use of imagery relates love, as in L1 he uses "stray'd eyes", to signify; love is blind.

The speaker uses the word "fashions"(L4), relating the reader to a society of fashion and civil mannerisms, of the 17th Century. "Passions", (L5), relate to the emotions of persons but at the time Donne wrote this poem, sexual passions where thought of as very sinful. Donne through his love of poetry opened the reader up to a new dimension to poetry of real love. He wrote in a metaphysical sense of passion and emotion and feeling of love.

In the second stanza (L1), he writes "send home my worthless heart again", which incorporates the pain he suffers. Donne carries on to descriptively show us his spirit beginning to fight back, almost in 'jest', which, in (L12) Donne accuses his misspent love "to make jestings" of his heart or love. He instinctively follows these accusations with L14 and L15 which strengthen his claim to being the receptor of lies and at the same time a light begins to glisten through the text of his truthful character.

Finally, the third stanza relates both the heart and eyes to seeing through his perpetrator of pain and false love. By being fully whole again, the speaker may also be happy; may laugh and joy (L19). The conceit in this stanza is therefore the heart and eyes as the receptors of love and by the speaker repossessing them he may once again look in hope and joy of finding love.

As for the reader finding love, Donne in the last three lines of the poem, (L22)"For someone", referring to the readers next love, (L23)"that will non", with the stress on 'will', either having no 'will', to choose or care. Consequently not caring or loving the reader, or as in (L24)"Or prove as false as thou art now". In other words the reader will get similar medicine to that which Donne has just had to suffer.

Indeed, the speaker also uses words that may be used more sparingly to God, (L14) "and cross both" (L15) "word and oath", a play on words with, I believe, to have an effect upon the reader that their offence may be punishable by God.


On the simplest level Donne is sending a message to an ex-girlfriend who has betrayed his love. He has been blind to her falsities until now so he asks her to send his eyes back, (a conceit of love being blind) and then his heart as she has broken this by not returning his love. When that, upon his recovery he may go and love someone who will truly love him back in the same way, and the ex-girlfriend will end up with some other as false with love as they are.

Indeed, on a deeper level we see how Donne changes his language in Lines 6 and 7 and consecutively L14 and L15 and L22 and L23, reforming to sound quite pray-like, almost biblical, and I believe it further pushes the point that his ex-girlfriend will be punishable by God, in other words she may get her 'just deserts'. Although, there is bitterness within the poem, I feel that towards the end there is also humour. Donne is almost laughing at his ex-girlfriend, especially if we take the rhythmic beat of the last line into consideration.

Donne's incredibly clever use of conceits throws him to the forefront of metaphysical poetry of the 17th Century and his unconventional play on words took him into a new era of poetry, along with the likes of Sidney Philip, Herbert and Milton. Donne broke from the more traditional Sonnets, such as Shakespeare, who was indeed writing poetry at the same time as Donne. Infact, Shakespeare was writing within the borders of the sonnet but pushing this limitation to the maximum, while Donne had the strength of his own convictions to break free and begin a new verse.

The love Sonnets of the 17th Century speak mainly of an unobtainable love, or sometimes of a dark lady ready to steer the innocent man of course and into the realms of hell, for passion and sexual love was looked upon as sinful, punishable by God who at this time was held in high places by people. Donne freely talks of his passions and emotions in love and guides one to envisage real love.


The surface tone of the poem presents bitterness and rejection of the speaker's feelings and emotions. The rhythm of this poem tells us a great deal, lightening the tone and speakers feelings with the 4x4 pattern, throwing humour and laughter once again into the speaker's eyes and heart.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Analysis of a Poem Message by John Donne. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Analysis of a Poem Message by John Donne essay
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