Criticism of "The Indifferent" John Donne

Essay by Roy ThompsonHigh School, 11th gradeA, February 1997

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'The Indifferent' by John Donne is a relatively simple love poem in comparison to his other, more complicated works. In this poem, 'he presents a lover who regards constancy as a 'vice' and promiscuity as the path of virtue and good sense' (Hunt 3). Because of Donne's Christian background, this poem was obviously meant to be a comical look at values that were opposite the ones held by Christians. According to Clay Hunt, '['The Indifferent'] is probably quite an early poem because of the simplicity and obviousness of its literary methods, its untroubled gaiety, and its pose of libertinism, which all suggest that Donne wrote [the poem] when he was a young man about town in Elizabethan London' (1-2). The poem 'mocks the Petrarchan doctrine of eternal faithfulness, putting in its place the anti-morality which argues that constancy is a 'heresy' and that 'Love's sweetest part' is 'variety'' (Cruttwell 153).

The first two stanzas of the poem seem to be the speaker talking to an audience of people, while the last one looks back and refers to the first two stanzas as a 'song.' The audience to which this poem was intended is very important because it can drastically change the meaning of the poem, and has therefore been debated among the critics. While most critics believe that the audience changes from men, to women, then to a single woman, or something along those lines, Gregory Machacek believes that the audience remains throughout the poem as 'two women who have discovered that they are both lovers of the speaker and have confronted him concerning his infidelity' (1). His strongest argument is that when the speaker says, 'I can love her, and her, and you and you,' he first points out two random nearby women for 'her, and her', then at...