Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Flea

I love poetry. I may randomly quote famous lines of English literature and I absolutely adore Sir Thomas Wyatt's "Whoso List to Hunt."

John Donne is another one of my favourite poets. So many of his poems stand out to me. Beautiful tales of love and comedic stories of manipulation in relationships abound in Donne's writing. "The Flea" is one of his comical relationship tales.

Donne's "The Flea" portrays a male rationalizing the act of sex to a girl through the use of a flea. The male claims that a flea has bitten both himself and the girl, causing their bodily fluids to combine. Therefore, the male suggests, her loss of virginity will be no more important than the bite of a flea.

It's an interesting poem and illustrates the sexuality of seventeenth century England.

The Flea, 1633

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, we are met,
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thy self nor me the weaker now;
'Tis true; then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honor, when you yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

Bibliographical Reference:
Donne, John. "The Flea." In The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume B, The Sixteenth Century-The Early Seventeenth Century, edited by Stephen Greenblatt et al, 1263. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.

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