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The Analysis of the Profane and Sacred in John Donne's Poems “the Flea” and “holy Sonnet 14”

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The Analysis of the Profane and Sacred in John Donne's Poems “the Flea” and “holy Sonnet 14”

John Donne who is considered to be one of the wittiest poets of the seventeenth century writes the metaphysical poem “The Flea” and the religious poem “Holy Sonnet 14”. In both poems, Donne explores the two opposing themes of physical and sacred love; in his love poem “The Flea,” he depicts the speaker as an immoral human being who is solely concerned with pleasing himself, where as in his sacred poem “Holy Sonnet 14” Donne portrays the speaker as a noble human being because he is anxious to please God. In the book The Divine Poems, writer Helen Gardner supports this fact as she argues, “His Maker is more powerfully present to the imagination in his divine poems than any mistress is in his love poems” (Pg-2). Overall, it seems that both these poems operate on many different levels as the rhyme scheme in both poems varies from iambic tetrameter and pentameter to the Petrarchan sonnet form. Donne employs wit as well as complex paradoxes, which are symbolic of the strong opposing drives at play in his poetry, and abstract conceits to further complicate the subject matter in both his poems. This is evident to the reader as in “The Flea” Donne presents the notion of carnal love through religious expressions, where as in “Holy Sonnet 14” he depicts the notion of divine love through sexual expressions. Hence, Donne does an excellent job in revealing the fact that in “The Flea,” the speaker appears to be arrogant, selfish, and disrespectful towards women. He is self absorbed and only cares about fulfilling his sexual fancy, while the speaker in “Holy Sonnet 14” comes across as a humble human being, who is worried about pleasing God.

John Donne deliberately makes his metaphysical love poem “The Flea” light-hearted by using humour to explore the issue of premarital sex. Donne begins the poem by introducing the image of a flea, which represents the notion of carnal love. This is evident to the reader in the opening few lines of the poem as the speaker states “Mark but this flea, and mark 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 be” (“The Flea,” L-1-4). Although Donne’s language is simple, the reader notices that it is filled with many subtle allusions to sex, as the speaker cleverly employs words, which reveal precisely his intensions. This is apparent to the reader as the speaker argues with his mistress and attempts to convince her that engaging in premarital sex is as harmless as getting bit by a flea, as “…[it] cannot be said / A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead” (“The Flea,” L-5-6). The reader realizes that the speaker in Donne’s poem possesses a strong and vivid imagination, as he believes that the intermingling of his and his mistress’s blood in the flea is equivalent to having sex without physical contact, which is more, then they have engaged in, in reality. This is obvious to the reader as the speaker states “Yet this enjoys before it woo / And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two / And this, alas, is more than we do” (“The Flea,” L-7-9). As the poem continues, the speaker comes across to be relentless as he expresses his sexual desires aggressively by pleading for the flea’s life because according to him it symbolizes their marriage. This is clear as the speaker insists:

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, w’are met / And cloistered in these living walls of jet (“The Flea,” L-10-15).

In this passage the speaker’s arrogant nature seems to imply that he lacks respect for women in general, as he does not admire his mistress’s choice to remain chaste, which further reflects the fact that he is an immoral individual. Once again, in her book Helen Gardner argues that instead of focusing on his mistress’s needs, the speaker appears to be selfish as he focuses on himself and is only interested in fulfilling his physical desires. Gardener explains this in detail, as in Donne’s love poems “the love poet [creates] an image of himself in love…” and does not neglect any of his physical needs. In the book The Disinterred Muse, writer David Novarr further discusses that “Gardner…makes it quite clear that she is aware of the sexuality in the poem, but at the same time she works heroically to free it from the charge of libertinism” (Pg-24). Even though the readers find the speaker’s highly aggressive and sexual nature to be offensive, David Novarr seems to defend the poem as he argues that:

…[it] [seems] [the] [speaker] has somehow compromised the integrity of his...belief [in] love…[however] it is frequently the committed man who dares to explore and exploit alternatives that in no way [undercut]

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