Donne’s The Flea…

John Donne’s poem, The Flea, is a somewhat humorous, but heroic, attempt by the speaker of the poem to convince his beloved to “lay” with him.  Donne’s ability to compare unlikely images (premarital sex and a flea) as symbols of love and romance exemplify metaphysical poetic mode (conceit).

The speaker in his poem is extremely interested in experiencing relations with his love; his love is not.

In a last ditch attempt to attain his goal, he contends that the flea that bit him- bit her too; therefore, they are already joined in the marriage bed through a blending of their blood, “Mark but this flea, and mark in this, How little that which thou deniest me is”.

His love eventually kills the flea, despite his protests.  At this, he again turns the argument around, telling her that her killing of the flea (and the high minded ideals that come with the blending of their blood) did not hurt her honor; therefore, neither would it be harmed by sleeping with him.

 

The Flea, by John Donne

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked 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 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.
The flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w’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, has 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 triuph’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 thou yeild’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

 

This poem was published posthumously in 1633.

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THE EXTASIE by John Donne- A Transcendence from Two to One

John Donne is one of the great Metaphysical poets of the 17th century; a period of poetry marked by abrupt and dramatic openings, familiar speech, an argumentative structure and an introspective quality.

Much of Donne’s poetry utilizes the interface of opposites (up/down, physical/spiritual, this/that).  This juxtaposition of disparate concepts creates a window into Supernatural or Metaphysical realm.  Later in the 19th Century, William Wordsworth has this revelation that he refers to as “Spots of Time”.

The Extasie, by John Donne, describes lovers bound together in an embrace that joins two hands…. two bodies….. two souls.  This embrace takes the lovers from a physical union to a spiritual one; resulting in the creation of a third soul that transcends the sum of the two.

The Extasie, by John Donne

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best.
Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;
So to’intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.
As ‘twixt two equal armies fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
Were gone out) hung ‘twixt her and me.
And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.
If any, so by love refin’d
That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,
He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
And part far purer than he came.
This ecstasy doth unperplex,
We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move;
But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
And makes both one, each this and that.
A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.
When love with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.
We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.
But oh alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They’are ours, though they’are not we; we are
The intelligences, they the spheres.
We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.
On man heaven’s influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.
As our blood labors to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot which makes us man,
So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.
To’our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.
And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.