A Jet Ring Sent
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?
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.”
Yet stay with me since thou art come,
sBe justly proud, and gladly safe, that thou dost dwell with me ;
She that, O ! broke her faith, would soon break thee.
John Donne (1572 – 1631)
John Donne survived the crackdown on the Catholic Church under Elizabeth I to eventually become an Anglican priest and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
To really understand the wording you need knowledge of ‘Jet’ as a gemstone …
Jet is a black gemstone (the eponymous ‘jet black’), but not strictly a mineral: like coal, it originates in decaying wood fossilized under extreme pressure. It is relatively soft, warmer to the touch than regular rock, light, and easy to carve – though not in fine detail because it is very brittle.
S1 … Did John Donne send a ‘Jet Ring’ to a lover and was it the start of a deeper marriage proposal. We do not know. But the ring has been returned by the lady and the poet (perhaps JD) is now in reflected thought and asks the ring to speak. The ring possesses both properties of the two in question. Black – JD’s heart is blacker, and brittle – that of the lady in breaking the relationship. The ring is endless (JD’s love) – and because it is ‘jet’ easily broke and it was easy for the lady to be dismissive of his love and break him.
S2 … The lady is talking saying that JD has represented her as cheap and nought but fashion (as the ring) and Jette is French for throw and a pun is in evidence. So it is to be done as the ring suggests – for marriage is not made of this stuff – so it is sent back. In his earlier days JD was a womaniser and initial sending of the ring may have been superficial – we do not know.
S3 … JD wants to keep the returned ring and he circles the ring with his thumb in the same way the lady must have held it – and the ring dwells proud and safe with JD in the same way his love dwells likewise. The ring will always be a reminder of that fact. It will not be broken though of brittle material for he will keep it safe.
This is a link to another WordPress site which gives an excellent analysis of this poem … https://yuliaryzhik.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/john-donne-a-jet-ring-sent/
And details of the life of John Donne on Wikipedia …
The good thing was, of course, that Donne was not undone by this turn down – so to the lady perhaps.