The Flea – John Donne

The Flea – John Donne

Donne’s The Flea is quite remarkable. It is a long winded and metaphysical request from Donne, to his potential suitor, to go to bed with him. Have a read of it below and see what you think:

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.
Well, what a poem! The first stanza sets the scene, a flea has bitten both Donne and his lady friend. A flea has bitten both him and her. Their blood intermingles in the flea, therefore, why should this young lady not compromise her virtue and give in to Donne’s desires? This is the essential thrust of the poem. The blood is mingling without any effort on the part of the flea, without any courtship or wooing. The reader is bemoaning why the same cannot be said of him and his prospective lover. It is, however, ironic to me that the writer touts the maidenhead of the woman he is trying to woo, while at the same time seeking to compromise it.
The second stanza speaks to the newly sacred nature of the flea. As it has mingled the blood of the writer and his suitor, it has now assumed the role of the beloved’s marital bed. To kill it would be a travesty in view of this. Though their parents disagree, though even she disagrees, Donne has decided that they are betrothed via Fr. Flea. The flea represents itself, the poet and his lover. To kill it would be to commit triple murder, which Donne reminds his suitor is forbidden by their faith.
Finally, the last stanza. The lover has killed the flea and the writer is piling onto her. He is saying that she has lost no honour by killing the flea, therefore she should not lose any honour by yielding to his wishes. The silliness of this is evident to us the modern reader. However, this last stanza is interesting in showing the force of his pursuit of this poor woman.
Overall, I think this is a funny poem which tackles the interesting subject of the lover’s pursuit. Donne has inadvertently shown man’s pursuit of woman in this incomplete, pre-marital, way is nonsensical. Charlotte and I discussed this and she concluded that Donne is satirising man’s pursuit of the physical. Donne is using this poem to express his acknowledgment and disdain of putting bodily satisfaction over spiritual fulfilment, and does so exquisitely.
Five (?) Favourites – April 2022 Edition

Five (?) Favourites – April 2022 Edition

Hello and good greeting. I have decided to downsize my five favourite feature to three favourites on account of increasing time commitments not enabling me to listen to as many albums as I should like. Here are three which stuck out to me this month.

J. J. Cale – Naturally (1974)

This is by all accounts an excellent cover. A racoon in a nice red coat with a top hat and tails is quaint and delightful.

Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)

An iconic cover by anyone’s rating system. Michael, leaning backwards, looking aloof in a dazzling white suit. The tiger is a bit off putting with our modern easily horrified glasses and clutched pearls on. However, reading an excellent article about this cover, I found out that the photographer, Dick Zimmerman, lent Michael his suit for the shoot after not liking the options available in the wardrobe department. An amazing cover which captured a unique moment in music history.

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds (1978)

Finally, feast your eyes upon the exquisite cover of Jeff Wayne’s 1978 masterpiece. Charlotte and I listened to this album on a 178km stretch of highway in France, heading to Calais. This was a particular highlight of the trip for me. I was so glad to be able to share this album with my darling. The cover shows the Thunderchild’s valiant heart being melted by one of the Martian tripods, a dramatic moment in the album.

I shall see you again for the March edition of X Favourites.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes – Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes – Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, a poet who can only be described as American, wrote a dashful poem about the aftermath of a great pain. My darling Charlotte has deciphered the pain as being that which follows a bereavement. See what you make of it:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
Since my dictating the first sentence, Charlotte and I have discussed this poem and we have agreed it could apply to grief in general. The first stanza speaks of the numb paralysis after a great trauma. The Mrs Bennet esque reference to nerves is accurate and expressive. I am sure we have all felt at one point preyed upon by our nerves. The reference to Christ’s suffering is a little more confusing to me. This requires an explanation – deixis (use of general words and phrases to refer to a specific time, place, or person in context, e.g., the words tomorrow, there, and they) to be understood. We can only suppose that Dickinson’s grief seemed, at the time, to be akin to Christ on the cross. But what did He bear?
Charlotte has reminded me that one cannot mention feet in a poem without making reference to the meter of the poetry, Iambic pentameter, for example, consists of five iambs ( _ / ). There are two main types of iambs, a trochee and spondee. Trochee is stressed then and unstressed syllable. A spondee consists of two stressed syllables. An example of a trochee would be the beginning of Blake’s The Tyger: the first syllable is stressed and the second is unstressed.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright
Why all this talk of poetic dissection? Merely to explain the feet pun in the second stanza. Beyond the metric punnage, the second stanza speaks of the effect of time on anxiety. The speaker uses solid materials to emphasise her frozen stiff state. Quartz contentment could mean tranquility and acceptance, stability in the hard material, or indeed a cold, hard numbness.
The final stanza is a little more jarring. It seems to suggest that the speaker does not believe she will live through the leaden hour. Will she die before she has gotten through her grief by natural causes, or by her own hand? The stages of grief are clear here, the speaker is chilled, frozen by the impact of the event, then numb. After this, the speaker is freed from her grief, though at what cost?
When You Are Old – William Butler Yeats

When You Are Old – William Butler Yeats

W. B. Yeats, (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939), was an Irish poet and writer, and one of the leading literary figures of the last century. He is a key figure behind the Irish Literary Revival. In December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”. From my research, I believe When You Are Old was published in 1893, when Yeats was not very old. It was written as a love poem to an Irish revolutionary who stole his heart, Maud Gonne. She refused to marry him despite several proposals. See the poem below:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
The phrase ‘full of sleep’ is quite horrifying to me. It implies a stage in one’s old age when they are so tired and close to death that they are almost sleep walking into death. Now, death is not necessarily something to be afraid of, especially not for a practicing Catholic. But this stage of life where one is exhausted is quite worrisome for someone with a modicum of vitality, at the time of writing. The first two lines invite Maude to read this poem while she is within a few weeks of death and comfortable by the fire, possibly dozing off.
The next two lines invite Maude to remember her youth, indeed dream of it. The dark shadows signify pessimism and depression, perhaps.
The second stanza in my view casts aspersions at Maude for dumping Yeats. It implies that the man she went on to marry was a false lover. Perhaps, those who loved her falsely enjoyed her beauty over the substance of her character. This is confirmed in the second half of this stanza when Yeats points out, helpfully, that he loved her wandering and/or searching soul
The last stanza reminds me of the beginning of Revelation 12, where the writer (ostensibly St John), describes the Virgin Mary in Heaven.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
Yeats is berating his ex love interest in the spiciest form yet, goading her for wasting an entire life because she has not spent it with him, even implying she is going to hell as he, Mr Right, ends up in heaven. Overall, a lovely poem! There is a lot of sass, a lot of projection and a lot of power here.
Five Favourites – March 2022 Edition

Five Favourites – March 2022 Edition

Welcome to the March 2022 edition of Five Favourites. See below my choices for this month

Black and White – The Stranglers (1978)

The four members of the Stranglers are looking quite morose on this cover. You will be glad to know that the B side of Tank, when it was released on vinyl, has the original singer, Dionne Warwick, on it. This is the same with the vinyl itself. I love this cover and so too does Mr Nick, who remarked on it when I showed him the vinyl.

London Calling – The Clash (1979)

British photographer Penny Smith took this iconic photograph. You can see an excellent article on the cover here. I was fascinated to read that she does not like the photograph of the lead singer, Paul Simonon, smashing his good bass guitar, as it is out of focus. This was the case, because she was backing away from him so as not to get hit!

The The – Soul Mining (1983)

This was album of the month last month and with good reason. The cover feels very much like how you will feel when listening to it. It speaks to the shocking soul searching of the lead singer, whom my father reliably informs me was in Marc and the Mambas. It is a difficult album and indeed a dark one. The cover speaks volumes.

Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads (1984)

The Big Suit. Need I say more? This cover contains one of the more iconic jackets in music history. I believe the suit is either in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or some fashion museum. This album is out of this world but the cover is pretty awesome too.

Night Flight to Venus – Boney M (1978)

For my last cover I have chosen the excellent Night Flight to Venus. Imagine four be-tutued Germans coming at you, at speed, while holding on to a rope. Is there anything more horrifying? Yes: their other album covers.

Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds – Vincent Van Gogh 1890

Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds – Vincent Van Gogh 1890

Van Gogh painted this arresting painting in the last few weeks of his life. He did a series of paintings of wheat fields around Auvers, of which Theresa May would be proud. This one, Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds, is quite arresting and took me by surprise.

In these landscapes he tried to express ‘sadness, extreme loneliness’. But the overwhelming emotions that Van Gogh experienced in nature were also positive. He wrote to his brother Theo, ‘I’d almost believe that these canvases will tell you what I can’t say in words, what I consider healthy and fortifying about the countryside.’

The elongated format of Wheatfields under Thunderclouds is unusual. It emphasizes the grandeur of the landscape, as does the simple composition: two horizontal planes. Van Gogh Museum

This is a simple painting, covering two horizontal plains. It is painted with simple, visible brush strokes, yet I find it quite striking. The emotion in this piece is palpable. The movement of the clouds, both light and dark is haunting. It is advancing towards you as you are watching. You can almost see the curtain of rain in the distance. The wheat in the field is almost moving and you can see the wind taking the three in the bottom right.

There is something very moving in this painting, there is a brooding, almost menacing quality to it. The painting reflects what Van Gogh must have felt in the closing weeks of his life, a kind of loneliness and despair, but at the same time in his own words, it is meant to show us the restorative qualities of the countryside. In all, a fascinating work in the later period of Van Gogh’s life.