By John Donne
It was with complete shock that I first heard John Donne’s love poetry being called “ironic”.
While he certainly subvert images and themes, I would never apply a term so associated with cynicism to Donne’s warm, teasing lyrics. Here, Donne is at his most delightfully absurd. The flea, so horrid and icky – that is a technical poetic term – becomes a symbol of the love between two people.
While his choice of vehicle is odd and somewhat off-putting, that alone convinces me of the sincerity at the heart of poem. He clutches at the first thing he see as inspiration to keep his beloved his near him longer, to awkwardly confess his love and “marry” her, like any normal, brilliant young lover. Granted, his awkwardness is confined only to his choice of symbol, but John Donne handles the narrative so well that he can be forgiven for his smoothness. He can find romance – of both the Chestertonian and flowery kind – in the ordinary details that surround him. His metaphor is rooted in the physical reality of the world, but it incorporates the practical accidents of Love.
The tone is slightly serious, as Donne takes his loves with incredible intensity. But what lover, to whom this is addressed, could help but laugh? Clearly, she does not quite take him seriously, as she squashes the flea. But at the same time, how could resist such poetic strivings for intimacy?
Also, this poem is simply a joy and delight hear read aloud! A good reader makes this both hilarious and swoon worthy.