Here is a playful poem by John Donne, quite similar in tone and subject matter to Andrew Marvell’s “To his coy mistress” (posted here on October 7, 2014). Both poems are jokily seductive, using humour and twisted logic to seduce the poets’ loved one. As we all know, making your partner laugh is an essential step in the process of seduction.
The poet compares himself to the flea which has bitten his desired lover – but the flea has had more success than the poet, at least so far….
BY JOHN DONNE
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, we’re 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.
In fact the poet claims in the first stanza that since the flea has bitten them both, this means that their blood is already mixed together as a precursor to being together in life. But alas, in the final line of the stanza, Donne laments that the fleas has achieved more then himself in getting intimate with his loved one.
In the second stanza, Donne implores his lover not to kill the flea, since their blood is mixed by the two flea-bites. The flea is compared to the state of marriage and sharing a bed. So the poet imagines that if his lover would just take guidance from the flea, she will succumb to Donne’s advances.
But in the third stanza, it seems that the lady in question kills the flea, unmoved by the poet’s ingenuity. Donne takes her task, for crushing the insect with her nail. But there is silver lining as the poet suggests that his lover’s honour will not suffer from yielding to his seduction, just as she was able to kill the flea without bringing weakness on herself.
Whether he succeeded or not, I hope Donne made his lover laugh.
The Poetry Dude