Favourite Poets: John Donne, The Flea

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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.
This 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, 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 thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

The Flea

The imagery here is amazing! On paper we’ve a flea in a bed feasting on the blood of a couple. It’s dirty, dank, you can picture a hovel of a place, perhaps a tiny hotel room with a flea-ridden bed in darkness because there’s not money to light a candle and the windows probably are grimy too – the jet walls? Although… I remember reading an analysis of this once – remove the word flea and replace it with love. The writer was the first to fall in love, and the love between them swells and is near bursting – and without the love they have it would mean death for both of them. They are both made stronger by that love – perhaps this couple don’t have very much, hence the use of a flea to talk about their connection – but they love deep, and true, and honest. What better love can there be than that?

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