words are in jest. The poetic form is a single stanza of 17 lines, with the ninth and 13th lines indented and meter that varies from iambic pentameter to iambic dimeter.
In the second line the speaker lets the former lover know that just when she feels free "From all solicitation from me, / Then shall my ghost come to thy bed." He will visit her at night in the place he previously occupied. He assumes an accusatory tone, labeling her a feigned vestal, referencing the classical vestal virgins, sacred young women of Rome, with the adjective feigned, or pretended, reflecting negatively on her character and reputation for purity. He also places her in "worse arms" than his own, dooming her to find another man who does not measure up to his standard. With his visit already carefully planned, he describes how her candle, a "sick taper," will flicker in his ghostly presence, and how "he whose thou art then," her new lover, will push her away, "being tired before." The speaker suggests his replacement will be weary from earlier lovemaking, so that when the lover attempts to wake him for comfort in her fright, her partner will "think / Thou call'st for more, / And in false sleep will from thee shrink." Psychoanalytic critics would see a double meaning in the term shrink, which suggests a flaccid male penis, as well as the action of pulling away normally applied to a demure female. Donne often indulged in imagining role reversals, and this image falls into that tradition. Feminist critics would find interesting his gender role reversal suggestion in a woman's demanding more sex from a man who pretends sleep in order to avoid satisfying that demand. The stereotype of the reluctant female lover had long been a staple image of love poetry.
The speaker then compares his former lover to the trembling leaves on an aspen tree, so great will her fear be. Having been "neglected" by her sleeping partner, she will find herself "Bathed in a cold quicksilver sweat," frightened by the lover she killed, who has become a "verier ghost," or truer spirit, than he was a human.
By the 14th line the speaker withholds information, obviously hoping to make his "murderess" even more uncomfortable: "What I will say, I will not tell thee now." He prefers a more ready revenge: "I had rather thou shouldst painfully repent, / Than by my threaten-ings rest still innocent." Should he continue to badger her, she could play the innocent victim. However, his silence may drive her to regret her actions in "murdering" him and pray for forgiveness.
Readers of any era can identify with such a revenge fantasy of one human rejected by another. Donne enlivens his poetic persona's wish life with dramatic imagery and the satisfaction of having the former lover suffer rejection by his replacement.
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