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Comparison Between John Donne’s “The Flea” and “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”

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The poem ‘The Flea’ by John Donne is an example of a monologue. However, instead of being a dramatic monologue, it is known as a dramatic lyric. Through the ideas of the speaker being a man, who is addressing the poem to a woman, and the use of the flea, which causes the speaker’s words to change as the poem progresses, it can be seen that ‘The Flea’ is a dramatic lyric poem, where the speaker is a man who is attempting to convince a woman to have sex with him. The flea plays an important role in the poem. It is not only used to determine that there are two people interacting, as indicated by the “two bloods,” but is also used to show how the speaker wants to have sex with the woman. Donne proves this concept by having the flea land on the woman’s arm and having the man compare his actions to the little creature’s actions. The man implies that the flea sucking the blood out of the woman is worse than him having sex with her. He says that the flea sucking the blood, “cannot be said/ A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,” yet the flea “does more than we would do.”

The speaker is saying that the flea has the power to mix two people’s blood, and this bond is similar, if not worse, to having sex. Since no sin or shame is derived from the flea’s actions, it means that sex is not bad then either .The man wants the flea to live, as he says at the beginning of the third stanza, “Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare.” He wants the flea to remain on the woman’s arm because it is a representation of the man and the woman coming together, as mentioned by “this flea is you and I.” The speaker states that the flea is “where we almost, yea, more than married are.” Sex is implied by “more than married”, but since they haven’t done it yet, the speaker uses the word “almost.” At the end of the third stanza, the woman wants to kill the flea and the speaker is trying to stop her, shown by when he says “though use make you apt to kill me.” This line indicates that if she follows societies custom of proper women having no sex before marriage, then she can destroy his sexual desires, which is symbolized by the flea’s death.

The man doesn’t want the woman to have three sins by killing the flea with the two “bloods” inside, and argues that she should rather commit just one sin by having sex with him. However, it is evident that the woman does kill the flea by the man saying, ” Cruel and sudden, hast thou since/Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?” This forces the man to change his argument so that she will still have sex with him, because now the bond of the flea is broken. He states the flea was guilty in nothing, but the little “drop,” which it sucked from her. The speaker is comparing himself to the flea again, as being a man who will do nothing but have sex with her, as if it is some minute thing with no big impact. He goes on further to say that, “Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,/ Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.”

Similar to how the flea’s death did not harm the woman’s honour, the man is saying that having sex with him will not really harm her honour either. The speaker of the poem is desperate to have sex with this woman, which is evident by how he changes his argument, as the poem progresses, just to convince her. First, he does not want the flea to be killed since it represents their “blood” bonding, but once it is dead, he uses it to prove how the effects of killing a flea are harmless and thus similar to having sex with him. The way Donne presents the speaker’s argument makes the poem, “The Flea,” a dramatic lyric rather than a dramatic monologue. The poem focuses on how the man is trying to convince the woman to have sex with him, along with bringing insight to the man’s character by his feelings and thoughts about the woman.

“A Valediction: forbidding Mourning” is recognised as one of Donne’s most famous yet simplest poems. It is his most direct statement of his ideal of spiritual love. Unlike, “The Flea,” in “A Valediction: forbidding Mourning” Donne professes a devotion to spiritual love that transcends merely the physical. In this poem, the persona anticipates a physical separation from his beloved; he invokes the nature of that spiritual love to ward off the “tear-floods” and “sigh-tempests” that might otherwise attend on their farewell. The poem is quintessentially a sequence of metaphors and comparisons, each describing ways of looking at their separation which will help them avoid the mourning forbidden by the poem’s title.

Firstly, the persona explains that their farewell should be as mild as the uncomplaining deaths of virtuous men, for to weep would be “profanation of our joys.” Next, the persona compares harmful “Moving of th’ earth” to innocent “trepidation of the spheres,” equating the first with “dull sublunary lovers’ love” and the second with their love, “Inter-assured of the mind.” Like the rumbling earth, the dull sublunary lovers are all physical, unable to experience separation without losing the sensation that comprises and sustains their love. But the spiritual lovers “Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss,” because, like the trepidation (vibration) of the spheres (the globes that surrounded the earth in ancient astronomy), their love is not wholly physical. Also, like the trepidation of the spheres, their separation will not have the harmful consequences of an earthquake.

Though he must go, their souls are still one, and, therefore, they are not enduring a breach, If their souls are separate, he says, they are like the feet of a compass. His lover’s soul is the fixed foot in the centre, and his is the foot that moves around it. The firmness of the centre foot makes the circle that the outer foot draws perfect: “Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end, where I begun.” The persona then declares that, since the lovers’ two souls are one, his departure will simply expand the area of their unified soul, rather than cause a rift between them. Here Donne beautifully compares this to the same way that gold can be stretched by beating it “to aery thinness”. As Donne continues, he says that their souls are “two” instead of “one”, they are as the feet of a drafter’s compass, connected, with the center foot fixing the orbit of the outer foot and helping it to describe a perfect circle.

This metaphor of the compass shows that persona’s love cannot be “perfect” without his partner, which shows the utmost adoration for his lover. The compass is also one of Donne’s most famous metaphors. It is the perfect image to summarise the values of Donne’s spiritual love, which are balanced, symmetrical, intellectual and beautiful in its sophisticated simplicity. ‘A Valediction: forbidding Mourning’ creates a dichotomy between the common love of the everyday world and the uncommon love of the persona. At this juncture, the persona claims that to tell “the laity,” or the common people, of his love would be to profane its sacred nature, and he is clearly condescending of the dull sublunary love of other lovers. The purpose of this dichotomy is to create a form of emotional aristocracy. This emotional aristocracy that Donne creates shows superiority of their love and how his travels will not affect it at all.

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