‘Song: Sweetest love, I do not go’ by John Donne is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, or octaves. The lines follow a pattern of ABABCDDC, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit. In regards to meter and rhythm, the lines alternate greatly in length. But there is an element of unity in the fact that each stanza is separated into two sets of four lines, or quatrains. There is a turn in the fourth line of each, taking the reader to a new, but related topic or expanding on the first.
‘Song: Sweetest love, I do not go’ was first published in 1633 in the posthumous collection Songs and Sonnets. A reader should take note of the word “Song” at the beginning of the title line. This signifies that the lines are meant to be sung, or at the very least read aloud.
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Summary of Song: Sweetest love, I do not go
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is going to have to leave. This does not mean the end of their relationship though as he doesn’t actually want to go. He isn’t seeking out another lover or trying to run away from her. He needs to go, but only temporarily. His departure will be like the setting of the sun. He’ll be gone briefly but return as the sun does in the morning.
The speaker compares himself to the sun again, this time in common steadfastness. Both the speaker and the sun do not get distracted by desire or sensations. The speaker adds that he is like the sun in every way, except that he is faster. He also believes that they can make the best of this bad situation by teaching bad luck how to leave them alone.
Donne concludes ‘Song: Sweetest love, I do not go’ by asking his lover not to cry or sigh over him. This will only cause him to fall into harm’s way and/or damage their relationship. He loves her and is going to make sure they are in one another’s company again soon. For the time being, she should pretend they are in bed together with their backs turned.
Tone and Themes in Song: Sweetest love, I do not go
The speaker of ‘Song: Sweetest love, I do not go’ takes on a determined, but unfailingly loving tone. He does everything he can in these short stanzas to convince his lover that any period of separation they’re forced to endure is nothing. If they are together in love and mutual happiness, then they can outlast the pain and come together once more. Just like the sun rising after a particularly dark night.
Analysis of Song: Sweetest love, I do not go
Sweetest love, I do not go,
For weariness of thee,
Nor in hope the world can show
A fitter love for me;
But since that I
Must die at last, ’tis best
To use myself in jest
Thus by feign’d deaths to die.
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker begins by addressing his lover. As will become clear as ‘Song: Sweetest love, I do not go’ progresses, the speaker is quite fond of this person. They have a very deep, long-lasting relationship. He tells her that he is not leaving because he is “wear[y]” of her. He adds that he is also not leaving because he thinks the world can provide him with a lover better, or “fitter,” than “thee.”
In the next lines, he explains that his departure is like any other— temporary. In particular, he is thinking of the greatest departure— death. Even that is only going to go on for a fixed amount of time
Yesternight the sun went hence,
And yet is here today;
He hath no desire nor sense,
Nor half so short a way:
Then fear not me,
But believe that I shall make
Speedier journeys, since I take
More wings and spurs than he.
In the second stanza, the speaker utilizes the sun as an example of the temporal nature of his trip. He reminds his lover that they saw the sun go “hence” yesterday but it is “here today.” In order to further calm down his lover, Donne’s speaker compares himself to the sun.
The sun, he states does not have any “desire” or “sense.” They are similar in this way as there is nothing that could throw him off his chosen path. There are no loves that could sway from the listener’s.
In the next lines, he continues his comparison. The sun and the speaker might be similar in their steadfastness, but the speaker has something that the sun does not. He is much faster. He plans on making a “Speedier journey…” than the sun is able to. The speaker is going to accomplish this because he has “More wings and spurs.”
O how feeble is man’s power,
That if good fortune fall,
Cannot add another hour,
Nor a lost hour recall!
But come bad chance,
And we join to’it our strength,
And we teach it art and length,
Itself o’er us to’advance.
In the third stanza, the speaker turns to the feebleness of “man’s power.” There is no way for humankind to control how time passes. He depicts this through an image of the failing and fading of good fortune and one’s inability to “add another hour.” The same can be said about the past, a perfect time can not be relived.
At the fourth line, there is another turn, just as was present in the first and second stanzas. This very purposeful separation allows the speaker to turn to a new but related topic. This time he is interested in discussing strength, particularly how human strength is able to fight off or improve bad situations. The speaker believes that “we” a reference to himself and the listener, as well as the human race as a whole, are able to “teach” bad chance “art and length” and keep it from taking over one’s remaining days.
When thou sigh’st, thou sigh’st not wind,
But sigh’st my soul away;
When thou weep’st, unkindly kind,
My life’s blood doth decay.
It cannot be
That thou lov’st me, as thou say’st,
If in thine my life thou waste,
That art the best of me.
In the fourth stanza of ‘Song: Sweetest love, I do not go’ Donne’s speaker utilizes repetition to depict his own unhappiness at his lover’s sadness. He imagines a future in which she longs for his return and does damage through these emotions. The speaker does not want his lover to feel this way. Instead, he’d rather her accept the separation as temporary and continue on with her life. Her weeping is “unkindly kind.” He appreciates the clear manifestation of love, but it makes him sad.
He describes how if she is weeping she is hurting him. Then adds, if she’s hurting him then she cannot love him. He hopes through this argument to convince her not to be so depressed when he’s gone. The final line is an expression of his own love for the listener.
Let not thy divining heart
Forethink me any ill;
Destiny may take thy part,
And may thy fears fulfil;
But think that we
Are but turn’d aside to sleep;
They who one another keep
Alive, ne’er parted be.
In the final stanza of ‘Song: Sweetest love, I do not go’ the speaker concludes his argument by summing up everything he has already said. He tells the listener that if she is thinking “ill” of him, or weeping over his absence then “Destiny may take thy part.” This means that he will end up coming to harm because of her emotions.
Rather than harm him, their love, or herself, the speaker asks that his lover imagine that they are in bed together. Their backs are to one another, and that is all. They are keeping one another alive through their love and that means that they will “ne’er,” or never, “parted be.”