The Flea

June 1, 2006 at 12:30 am Leave a comment

John Donne


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;
Confess it, 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.

O 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’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to this, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
In what 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 honour, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

Hatshepsut’s comment to Marvell’s ‘To his coy mistress’ made me decide I’d put this delightful Donne poem up as well.

It’s not the world’s most romantic poem. In fact, I can safely say, even with my limited experience, that as strategies to get a woman into bed go, comparing sex to being bitten by a flea is pretty much a non-starter. Yet it’s a marvellous example of the way logic is used in metaphysical poetry, the breathtaking cleverness of it, the unanswerable wit. Donne takes a conceit that seems implausible, even impossible, as a basis for a love poem, yet he manages to develop it into three whole stanzas of impeccably rational (if slightly gross) argument for why all the arguments his mistress uses to deny him her bed can be lightly brushed aside. Rather like a flea.


Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, John Donne.

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