Friday, September 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 30 (John Donne)

Donne, John
The Complete English Poems


I think this book also dates from my college days, which means I probably bought it at the Fordham University Bookstore. I remember taking a course on 17th Century Poetry, so I must have bought it for that.

I am almost sure I did, but I may have bought it in response to one of my college professors who mentioned him in connection with Eliot. Most of my professors came very much from the New Critical school, which means that they all worshipped T.S. Eliot in some way or another, and so canonized each and every poet about which Eliot ever wrote. Eliot loved John Donne, therefore John Donne must be taught! Which isn't to say I don't like Donne's poetry, I do, it's just that my early experience of it was always filtered through Eliot.

The other interesting filter through which we read Donne at Fordham was, of course, the religious filter. One of the Jesuits with whom I was friendly had written extensively on Donne's sermons and liked to talk about them over really expensive meals in Manhattan before taking me out to the ballet or the opera at Lincoln Center. At the ballet, when, he'd get really excited about something, he'd lean over, pinch me on the arm and say, "Oooo!"

I remember once reading the entire text of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells" on the message tape of my answering machine. The first person to call and get this message was the aforementioned Jesuit. He actually listened to the entire thing before leaving a one word message: "Jackass."

Personally, I find the the secular Donne a bit more entertaining than the religious one, but I admire both.

The Flea

Marke but this flea, and marke in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
Me it suck'd first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled bee;
Confesse it, this cannot be said
A sinne, or shame, or losse of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoyes before it wooe,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than wee would doe.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
When we almost, nay more than maryed 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 cloysterd in these living walls of Jet.
Though use make thee apt to kill me,
Let not to this, selfe murder added bee,
And sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three.

Cruell and sodaine, has thou since
Purpled thy naile, in blood of innocence?
In what could this flea guilty bee,
Except in that drop which it suckt from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and saist that thou
Find'st not thyself, nor mee the weaker now;
'Tis true, then learne how false, feares bee;
Just so much honor, when thou yeeld'st to mee,
Will wast, as this flea's death tooke life from thee.

1 comment:

Joseph Mailander said...

We called this poem a top example of "metaphysical conceit."I suppose you recall that too.

Jesuits do like their expensive meals; I once went with one to a sushi restaurant and he already had his own sake box there...and of course he went to sushi on Friday to give a nod to the old practice of abstaining from meat...sushi, a very Jesuit method of abstaining from meat...