"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Greatnesse a period hath, but hath no station.

"At every stroake his brazen finnes do take,
More circles in the broken seas they make
then cannoons voices, when the aire they teare:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch'd roofe
of barke that blunts best steele, is thunder-proofe:
Swimme in him swallow'd Dolphins, without feare,
and feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were
Some Inland sea, and ever as hee went
Hee spouted rivers up, as if he ment
To joyne our seas, with seas above the firmament."

--John Donne


At 6:14 AM, Blogger Galen said...

I'm not a big Donne fan, but I like this.

I know I know, but god damn it, I hate the flea.

It is partially irrational, but I have just always disliked it.

In 8th grade I summarized it thus: "The flea bit me, the flea bit you..., let's screw!"

Unfair? Probably, but I hate the Flea.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Anna said...

I hated The Flea when I was eighteen and offended by the idea of trying to cajole sex out of somebody. Age and wisdom render me more sympathetic to that impulse. Besides, who wants to reject all explicitly seductive literature?

There's a condescension in his tone that still grates. But what do you want from him? It's 1650.

And you have to admit, the rhetorical structure is truly a thing to behold. 8th-grade-Galen left out a few premises.

Or maybe not. 8th-Grade Galen honed in on the absurd (and the rhyme). That seems to be most people's complaint with The Flea, but I think the seeming silliness of drawing the conclusion Donne draws from the example he cites is probably the most effective rhetorical strategy in the piece.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger Galen said...

Condescension is indeed part of that, but I just don't like it. It makes me oddly mad.

Some repressed memory may lurk there somewhere, or, more likely, it stems from the spite I still hold toward that teacher and how much she loved the poem.

Chicken? Egg?

No idea.

It is not the idea of cajoling sex, but I am offended by the fact that anyone would fall for such a stupid line.

Then again, people are idiots.

I used not to think that. Everyone just needed a chance, and perhaps their stupidity was temporary or about to pass, or they just needed something, but no. The last month has taught me. People are idiots. Someone somewhere would fall for that line.

Also, the absurd always has more to say that the "real."

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Whim said...

Galen has every right to hold his education against those writers, innocent or no, who were wielded clublike by it. I read Donne's love poems on my own, in love, and they were cemented there straight away. Now, however, I am more interested in his other work, especially his prose sermons.

As to The Flea, which is not one of his best poems but only one of his most clever, it is somewhat useful to know something of his metaphysics.

All life came from a mixing of ever-changing elements. This mixture can be of the spirit:

"Our hands were firmely cimented
With a fast balme, which thense did spring,
Our eye-beames twisted, and did thred
Our eyes, upon a double string;
So to 'entergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propogation."

(The Extasie)

Or, more directly understood, by a mingling of blood, which was, at the time the physicians understanding of how babies were made. A fetus was originally a swirling mass of male and female blood.

So the flea is, or is carrying, their child. When the girl purples her nail with the fleas death, she has casually aborted said child. With such a sin already upon her, she might as well sleep with him for it could harm her no longer.

There is certainly no evidence, however, that the young woman fell for the line. I would argue that she didn't.

Taken as a whole, his love poems are episodes of torment, a drama of the soul mingled with the body, but bound there, love exists only in bodies, that die, that may come and go and take and leave as well as any animal. (And it is no accident that animals are frequently used in his poems) That these were written in a ghastly period of courtly spiritual love poems, that in fact we have still inherited this vision of love transcendant, makes Donne's poetry just as subversive now as it was then.

In his later, religious period, he brings this intelligence to the gates of god and the prophets and I'm not yet through enough of it to write more...

Am I a bore or what?

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Galen said...

I hope she didn't fall for it, but thousands have since, and that is why we are all forced to read it.

The Elements are all great Aristotelian thought, but Donne was behind the times as Aristotle's ideas of biology had been debunked by the 16th century in most of Europe.

Besides, "Hey baby, did you know that all life came from a primordial ooze of nutrients and electrolytes? Both you and I got both in us..., so I guess there would be no harm in 'makin' soup'!" is a horrible pick up line.

Similarly, the flea defense has never been taken seriously by God.

I'm off to work on my new poem "That sperm you got from the sperm bank was mine... so we should have sex."

I saw the best sperm of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the flea infested streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix…

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey baby, on a cosmic level you already have the herpes. We're all one. Let's get jiggy.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Galen said...

Cosmic herpes, ha!

Did you hear that at the launch party for the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Issue many of the models were "exposed to Hepatitis A."

Wow, no one saw that coming.


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