I've read a poem that has intrigued me and piqued my curiosity, but unfortunately it also confused me
September 19, 2011 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I've read a poem that has intrigued me and piqued my curiosity but unfortunately it also confused me. It would be great if someone here could elucidate its meaning for me. The poem is The Curse by John Donne.
posted by gregb1007 to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could you clarify what was confusing for you?

Specifically: I don't mean that in a "god, how come you couldn't figure that out, it's so obvious" kind of way. I'm just hoping to focus what you're a little unclear about so I can look at that myself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:40 AM on September 19, 2011

Basically, he's wishing bad things on anyone who investigates or reveals the identity of his mistress.

Some have suggested that he is mirroring and perhaps parodying the Catholic tendency to excommunicate.

Others that it has something to do with Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

Still others that it's just really obscure.
posted by valkyryn at 11:40 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: EmpressCallipygos, I just have the feeling there's a background story there that I don't know anything about.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:09 PM on September 19, 2011

I think it makes a lot more sense if you take "knows" in line 1 in the Biblical sense.

That produces an interesting (homophobic, rather than merely misogynist) reading of the last two lines.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:38 PM on September 19, 2011

Best answer: Summary: The curse describes all the terrible things which will happen to a man who reveals Donne's mistress. At the end, it states that none of these things are as bad the curse which has been placed on women.

I think it helps if you read the poem in relation to contemporary attitudes towards women – religious attitudes in particular. The mention in the last line to a curse made by 'Nature beforehand' can be read as a reference to God's condemnation of womankind to eternally experience pain in childbirth. A commonly espoused view in seventeenth-century England was that women were innately sinful, because they inherited the sin of Eve.

This interest in the Fall, sex and sin is a theme in Donne's other works. For example, his 'Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed' uses language redolent of Eden ("my America, my new found land") and talks of how lovers should not be ashamed of their nakedness (a consequence of the Fall was that mankind became ashamed of nakedness).

Given his other love/erotic poetry, I suppose you might read the poem in a more favourable way, i.e. Donne is utterly enthralled by his mistress, and is prepared to forgive a woman who knows his mistress because women have been punished enough by God. You could even read the last line as implying that it is Donne himself who is cursed, the curse being his inability to resist the temptations of women.
posted by mattn at 4:22 AM on September 20, 2011

PS: judging from Google Books snippet view alone, it looks like this book might have some relevant material in it: John Donne's "desire of more": the subject of Anne More Donne in his poetry, edited by M. Thomas Hester.
posted by mattn at 2:19 PM on September 22, 2011

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