John Donne – Go and Catch A Falling Star – 4 (conclusion)


“till age snow white hairs on thee…” 

Student: (I was wondering, in John Donne‘s time, how they used the word “art”, A-R-T- how did they use that)?

AG: Well now, I don’t think they used it the way we do, then. In Shakespeare, you see, “If thou.. If thou be who thou think thou art..”  They probably used “art” in those days anyway.

Student: ( or “are” – (“Tell me where all past years are“))

AG: Okay. okay. They seem to be… “If thou be’st the man I think thou are” – (apparently, “art” (are) comes at the end, instead of “You are it”, you see? – “You it are”, they would say, “You be’s it”, or something?, I don’t know).

Student: Isn’t it an obvious pun on “beast”, at the time? I mean, don’t you think that they ...

AG: Nah, not necessarily.

Student: Did he catch any flack attack because he brags on women so heavily?

AG: No, he was celebrated in his day for being a brilliant… really famous.. (horny) fellow (somewhat)

Student: (This “be’st” (is perhaps from) German, a form of “bist” (B-I-S-T)

AG: Yeah

Student: I have a question, though, about the second line here – the Mandrake root – (“Get with child a mandrake root”) – It is said that if a mandrake root is just yanked, pulled out of the ground that it has this scream thar’s known to be fatal. Is this sort of… is this like a damnation, in the second line, or is this..s omething, (you) go with a child and pick a mandrake root..?

AG: No no no..

Student: Fuck a mandrake!

AG: Fuck a mandrake, and make the mandrake pregnant…make a mandrake pregnant. See, he’s listing a whole bunch of impossible things to do -to compare to getting a faithful girl – “Go and catch a falling star, knock up a mandrake root..”

Student: I thought it was knock someone up with a mandrake root?

AG: Well, apparently… I used to think that too, but then, when you look at it, it says ” Get with a mandrake”.. “get a mandrake root with child”, or “get a mandrake root knocked up”

Peter Orlovsky: I thought it was just getting a mandrake, a child getting a mandrake – “Someone get with a child and get with a mandrake root”

AG: Well that would be….No, it ain’t. And “Tell me where all past years are/ Or who cleft the devil’s foot”..

Peter Orlovsky: What does “cleft” mean?

AG: “Cut “, Cut the devil’s foot into, horned foot, into two (the devil has two, like a goat, yeah?) – Cleft foot, the goat’s cleft foot – “Teach me to hear mermaids singing” (In other words, all these impossibilities) – “Or to keep off envy’s stinging” – (which is pretty witty, keep off the stinging of envy, that’s something the Buddhists might be able to do, possibly, , but, he’s putting it as a total impossibility, like catching a falling star, completely ending all envy). – “And find/What wind/Serves to advance an honest mind” – (Well, find what movement, what… what would that mean? – “find/What wind/Serves to advance an honest mind” ? – Find what…)

Student: Find what current.. (or) situation..

AG: Yeah. What situation, current or movement would advance somebody’s honesty of mind – (rare enough! – ((as) rare as catching a falling star) – just irony) – “If thou be’st born to strange sights/Things invisible to see/Ride ten thousand days and nights/Till age snow white hairs on thee’ – How long is “ten thousand days and nights”? – That’s the lifetime of man?

Student: Thomas Wolfe wrote ten thousand words a day

AG: How many years is “ten thousand nights and days”? – Well, a thousand days is three years, ten thousand days is….

Student: Thirty

AG: Just thirty.

Peter Orlovsky: And he couldn’t get grey hair, white hair, in thirty years.

AG: In those days.. If you were twenty, let’s say, when it started, he could be fifty. So ten thousand days is thirty years s that’s so. till maturity, at any rate, till age puts “snow white hairs on thee” – (that’s an interesting construction – (not) “Till age – (he) condenses – make your hairs white as snow on you” , but “Till age snow white hairs on thee’)

Student: Can “snow” be looked on as a verb, though?

AG: No, “white..” I think “white” is (the verb).

Student: Oh really

AG: “Till age white the hairs on thee”, “Till age snow white hairs on thee” – So I would say “snow” is an adverb.

Student: It could be a verb though, because…

AG: Oh! All these years I’ve had it wrong, because it’s “snow white hairs”..

Peter Orlovsky; Well, what”s the difference?

AG: Oh! ‘ “Till age snow white hairs on thee”! – Oh!

Peter Orlovsky; Well, what’s the difference?

Student: “Ride” is also very long – “ride and “age

AG: Yeah, that’s right, till age.., till age snow – That’s the verb then, okay – “Till age snow, white hairs” – then there’d be a slight pause there – “white hairs on thee”

Student: I like the concept of a color as a verb..

AG: I was pronouncing this “Till age snow white hairs on thee” (as if whiten, to whiten through age – “white the hairs on thee”, like snow)

Peter Orlovsky; Or it would be “snow-white“, wouldn’t it?

AG: Yeah.. He says..but it makes more sense – “”Till age snow on thee”,”Till age snow on thee white hairs”…

Peter Orlovsky. Well you out, driving straight, on a horse, for ten thousand days, you’re bound to get some snow..

AG: Yes, definitely. You’re bound to get some white hairs too! – So when you get back..

Peter Orlovsky; Unless you wear a hat (which you’re most likely to do)

AG: So when you get back – (“Thou, when thou return’st..”) – “Thou, when thou return’st wilt tell me/All strange wonders that befell thee./And swear/No where/Lives a woman true and fair” – (“and fair” – true and fair – both – You might get an ugly one! – but not a fair one – So he’s funny, actually)

Peter Orlovsky: What’s a true woman here mean?

AG: Well, someone who will stay in love with you as long as you want and remain faithful, someone who won’t be going around with somebody else while you’re gone for ten thousand days..

Student: He didn’t have a skeleton key or a chastity belt

AG: However… “If thou find’st one, let me know,/Such a pilgrimage were sweet;/ Yet do not. I would not go/Though at next door we might meet;/Though she were true when you met her,/And last, till you write your letter,/Yet she/Will be/False, ere I come,to two, or three./No where/Lives a woman true, and fair.”

Student: I don’t understand the meaning of that last line.

AG: Okay. Where are we here?

Student: Who writes the letter?

AG: “If you…” “If you find a girl that would be that, (that would be true), let me know. It would be a great idea to go on the pilgrimage and find her. But don’t – I won’t go, I wouldn’t go anyway…

Peter Orlovsky: Why?

AG: ..even if I had to go there, even if I had to go next door, I wouldn’t even go next door to find her !

Peter Orovsky: Why? Why? Tell me.. Because…?

AG: Because she was true when you met her and..

Student: And she’d be true until you write the letter to me, telling me about her..

AG: Yeah, and she would.. But what does “And last” mean? – she would last…

Student: She would last true..

AG: Last true?

Student: By the time that he got to her, she would….

AG: Okay, but what does “last” refer to? What word?

Student: Her being true.

AG: Her truth would last?

Student: Yeah

AG: Okay.. If she were true and would last, you mean? – Is the “would“…

Student: Between the time you meet her and the time you write your love letter?

AG: Do you think “would” is implied there? Okay, first, “though she were true when you met her, and would last till you write your letter” (the letter to me, saying that you found this particular love that really will be with you), “yet she will be false before I get to her to two or three other people…”

Peter Orlovsky: Why?

AG: Well, all women are false, that’s all – it’s obvious! It’s a saying – “All women are fickle”

Peter Orlovsky: Was he gay or something?

AG: Well, you’d think so. He really hates them at a certain point – (or rather,)  love-hate – I mean there’s a lot of…   (And then) the next poem’s women’s constancy, anyway…

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-two minutes in]

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