Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Flea

(Apple Blossom and Fruit, circa 1890; in
the language of flowers, apple blossoms
can represent deceit, in an allusion to the
serpent’s deception in Paradise)

This poem, by John Donne (1572-1631), is a fine example of a work by one of the English Metaphysical poets. Many of their lyric poems were filled with fanciful imageries and startling metaphors.

The young man here thinks he is quite clever and witty as he tries to charm a young lady into temptation — since the flea has already done it for us, he says, with our two bloods becoming one, why don’t you and I just do it, too?

But the lady’s not persuaded.

She kills the flea.


Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea 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’re met,
And cloister’d 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 suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself, nor me the weaker now.
’Tis true; then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

No comments: