The poem is not one of Donne’s better known, but it is a simple representation of the poet’s ability to take something mundane, like a ring, and use it unusually and interestingly. He focuses on the ring’s color and material in ‘A Jet Ring Sent’ and uses it to define his failing relationship.
A Jet Ring Sent John DonneThou art not so black as my heart, Nor half so brittle as her heart, thou art ;What would'st thou say ? shall both our properties by thee be spoke, —Nothing more endless, nothing sooner broke?Marriage rings are not of this stuff ; Oh, why should ought less precious, or less toughFigure our loves ? except in thy name thou have bid it say, "—I'm cheap, and nought but fashion ; fling me away."Yet stay with me since thou art come, Circle this finger's top, which didst her thumb ;Be justly proud, and gladly safe, that thou dost dwell with me ;She that, O ! broke her faith, would soon break thee.
Explore A Jet Ring Sent
‘A Jet Ring Sent’ by John Donne depicts a failing relationship through a metaphor that uses an ill-received black ring.
In the first lines of the poem, call the speaker introduces the elements of a metaphorical conceit, comparing a jet black ring to the state of his relationship to the woman he loves. He gave her this ring as a token of their promise to one another. But, she returned it to him, demonstrating the brittle nature of her own promise. Donne’s speaker sees their relationship reflected in the ring’s many qualities and is determined to keep it safe on the tip of his finger. He isn’t going to fling it away as she did.
The main theme of this poem is the frailty of love or faith in a relationship. The speaker compares his lover’s lack of faith to the brittle, jet material of the ring he gave to her (and which she flung away, returning it to him). He speaks to the ring throughout, asking it questions about the relationship and considering what he will do with the object now.
Structure and Form
‘A Jet Ring Sent’ by John Donne is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines. These four-line stanzas, known as quatrains, follow a rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD EEFF. The lines are also written in iambs, albeit with different numbers of metrical feet. The first line of each stanza is in iambic tetrameter, the second and fourth in iambic pentameter, and the longest line, the third, is a fourteener.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Simile: a comparison that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “Thou art not so black as my heart, / Nor half so brittle as her heart thou art.”
Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, the poet personifies the ring throughout this entire poem.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “What would’st” in line two of the first stanza and “dost dwell” in line three of the third stanza.
- Apostrophe: occurs when the speaker addresses someone or something that cannot hear or respond to them. In this case, the poet addresses the jet-black ring.
Thou art not so black as my heart,
Nor half so brittle as her heart, thou art ;
What would’st thou say ? shall both our properties by thee be spoke,
—Nothing more endless, nothing sooner broke?
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by using an example of an apostrophe. This occurs when the speaker directs their words to someone or something that is unable to either hear or respond to them. In this case, the poet addresses a jet-black ring that he gave his lover. He bestowed on her as a token of his affection and desire to remain loyal to her. But, she has returned to him.
Now, the speaker is addressing the ring, trying to figure out what to do next and what has become of his relationship. He notes the ring’s material is not of the highest quality. Jet is broken far easier than gold or silver. He compares the brittle quality of the ring to the changeable nature of his lover’s heart.
He asks the ring directly, “What woulds’t thou say?” And then answers for the ring, conveying what he thinks the ring might say in reply. It was easy for his lover to dismiss him and toss away the jet-black ring. This is evocative of the ring’s properties.
Marriage rings are not of this stuff ;
Oh, why should ought less precious, or less tough
Figure our loves ? except in thy name thou have bid it say,
“—I’m cheap, and nought but fashion ; fling me away.”
The speaker goes on in the second stanza to suggest that marriage “rings are not of this stuff.” The normal ring one would give to signify their desire to get married is made of far stronger material. This also implies that the relationship the speaker is in is not strong enough for marriage either.
The speaker considers how the ring may have influenced his lover negatively and inspired her to do what the name suggests. Here, Donne is alluding to the French word “jette,” meaning to throw or fling away, which is exactly what the speaker’s lover did. She saw it as an insult to perceptions of her own value and what she was willing to accept from a lover.
It’s different for the speaker, though. The ring has come back to him, and he isn’t interested in flinging it away.
Yet stay with me since thou art come,
Circle this finger’s top, which didst her thumb ;
Be justly proud, and gladly safe, that thou dost dwell with me ;
She that, O ! broke her faith, would soon break thee.
In the final stanza, the poet says that since the ring came back to him, he’s going to wear it on the tip of one of his fingers just like his lover wore it, briefly, on “her thumb.” He tells the ring that he’s going to keep it safe. He’s not going to toss it away as his lover did.
The ring can feel safe in his possession and “justly proud” of its material and fashion. He knows that the ring is better off with him because if it had stayed with her, she would’ve broken it, just like she broke her “faith” to the speaker, or just as she broke her vows to remain true and faithful to the speaker.
The meaning is love should not be determined based on material symbols. But, since he gave the jet ring to his lover, the speaker becomes consumed with comparisons connecting her brittle heart and his black heart to the ring’s material.
The poem is about a black ring a scorned lover sent to his beloved and which she returned. She was put off by its lack of quality and broke her faith to the speaker or did not remain true to him. Now that the ring is back in his possession, the speaker spends the stanzas contemplating his relationship and what the ring represents.
‘A Jet Ring Sent’ is a three-stanza poem made up of quatrains. These quatrains are divided into rhyming couplets. The second and fourth lines are written in iambic pentameter, while the first is in iambic tetrameter. The third line is the longest in each stanza and is known as a fourteener.
Donne wrote this poem in order to explore the end of a relationship and how a single, small object can represent so much. He uses his metaphorical skills to define the ring as a symbol of his relationship with his lover. It’s unclear whether or not Donne saw himself as the man in the poem and was considering real-life events or not.
Readers who enjoyed ‘A Jet Ring Sent’ should also consider reading other John Donne poems. For example:
- ‘Death, be not Proud’ – tells the listener not to fear Death as he keeps the morally corrupt company and only leads to Heaven.
- ‘The Flea‘ – is the poet’s most famous poem. In it, he uses one of his brilliant conceits to convince his love to sleep with him.
- ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning‘ – uses one of his famous conceits to depict the steadfast nature of his love.