LYRIC

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.

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About "The Flea"

One of Donne’s most popular poems, written in Donne’s college years. The speaker uses the conceit of a flea as an extended metaphor of his relationship with his addressee in order to persuade her to sleep with him. Whether this game worked is unknown.

It is a carpe diem* poem, that is ‘seize the day’. and enjoy sex. But vying with his seduction strategy is the sub-text of the woman’s reluctance. It is easy for a man to say that ‘loss of maindenhead’ is ‘no shame’. She may see it differently.

Date: Uncertain. Published posthumously in 1633

Form and structure: 3 stanzas of 9 lines in rhyming couplets and ending with a triplet(AABBCCDDD). Metrically, the first line in each couplet is formed of iambic tetrameters (that is four feet to the line) and the second line in each couplet iambic pentameters (five feet). At the end of the stanza the triplet comprises one line of iambic tetrameter and two of iambic pentameters. The effect of this is to give the poem greater pace than it would have if entirely iambic pentameter. But the ending of each stanza is slowed by longer iambic pentameter lines, to give emphasis to the poet’s arguments.

Language and Imagery
The voice is that of the poet, the first person singular ‘I’, addressing his girlfriend as ‘thou’. The poem is characterised by intelligence and wit.

The poem exemplifies Donne’s imaginative use of language, the outlandish and fanciful metaphaphysical conceit — the extended metaphor of the flea as a representation for sex.

Withing the overall scheme there are religious references, for example, the last line of stanza two is a reference to the Holy Trinity; ‘three sins in killing three’.

What Does Metaphysical Mean?
The word ‘meta’ means ‘after,’ so the translation of ‘metaphysical’ is ‘after the physical.’ Metaphysics deals with questions that can’t be explained by science, and explores the nature of reality in a philosophical way.

Common metaphysical questions include the following:
•Does God exist?
• What is the difference between reality and perception?
•Is everything that happens already predetermined? If so, then is free choice non-existent?
•Is consciousness limited to the brain?

Of course, there is no one correct answer; Metaphysics is about exploration and philosophy, not about science and mathematics.

Characteristics
One common characteristic is that Metaphysical poetry is clever and witty. The poets examined serious questions with humour.

Metaphysical poetry also sought to shock and challenge the reader; to question the unquestionable. The poetry often mixed ordinary speech with intellectual paradoxes and puns. The results were strange, comparing unlikely things, such as lovers to a compass or the soul to a drop of dew. These bizarre comparisons were called ‘conceits’.

Metaphysical poetry also explored a few common themes — religion; the theme of carpe diem (seize the day) and the nature of humanity and emotions.

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