Home > Q&A > Literature > What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil’s foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy’s stinging” mean?
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What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil’s foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy’s stinging” mean?

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John Donne’s or who cleft the Devil’s foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy’s stinging means that there is no way one can get a chaste woman in this world. The first part, “Or who cleft the Devil’s foot”, emphasizes how getting a virtuous woman is as easy or difficult as clinging on the devil’s foot. It is impossible to get hold of the devil; consequently, it is impossible to get a chaste woman.

The second part, “teach me to hear mermaids singing”, still explores whether it is possible to get a virgin woman. The writer compares hearing mermaids sing to getting a pure woman. It is impossible to learn how to hear ghosts sing. Finally, the sting of envy is inevitable; if it were possible to keep off this sting, then one would possibly find a chaste woman.

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IvyPanda. (2021, November 10). What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging” mean? https://ivypanda.com/q/sentence-in-song-written-by-john-donne-meaning/

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IvyPanda. (2021, November 10). What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging” mean? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/q/sentence-in-song-written-by-john-donne-meaning/

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"What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging” mean?" IvyPanda, 10 Nov. 2021, ivypanda.com/q/sentence-in-song-written-by-john-donne-meaning/.

1. IvyPanda. "What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging” mean?" November 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/q/sentence-in-song-written-by-john-donne-meaning/.


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IvyPanda. "What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging” mean?" November 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/q/sentence-in-song-written-by-john-donne-meaning/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging” mean?" November 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/q/sentence-in-song-written-by-john-donne-meaning/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'What does the sentence in Song written by John Donne, “Or who cleft the Devil's foot, Teach me to hear mermaids singing, Or to keep off envy's stinging” mean'. 10 November.

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