Friday, April 04, 2008

BillyBlog's Favorite Poems, #27 ("The Flea," by John Donne)

Today's favorite poem goes back a few hundred years to the poet John Donne.

Donne may be most famous for his sonnets, namely "Death Be Not Proud," or his other great works like"For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning".

However, the poem of his that I read and have always loved is a carpe diem poem in which Donne deftly, and rather perversely (in a subtle way) uses the flea to justify a woman's succumbing to his amorous advances.

by John Donne

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest 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 honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

And that's how poets tried to persuade young maidens to forfeit their virginity back in the day.

As an extra bonus, here's an interpretation through YouTube:

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