Sunday, March 22, 2009

R. Twobloods Mingeldby the Third, at your service

Please allow me to introduce myself, 'tho I am NO1 of wealth or fame: R. Twobloods Mingledby the Third, your not so humble servant, at your service.
And now that I've listened a few times, I want to note two things.

R. Twobloods Mingeldby III would make a great name, for I don't know what purpose, I just like the very English sound of it. Maybe I'll go about today in that character. R. Twobloods Mingeldby the Third--isn't that our true name?

That second poem--whoa, what a thought-stopper that is.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Regarding
Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2009 09:27:59 -0700
From: Dave Parker
Organization: Completely Different Research

Thanks for the Gielgud/Glover video. I really enjoyed hearing the Flea. On first reading I really struggled with the rhythm. Gielgud's reading is more to my liking, or maybe I just have fond memories of him in Arthur.

Glover, though, completely captivated me with his strolling recitation, esp. when he comes to a stop near the hedge.

So power is what Donne's poetry is all about? I've been thinking, for some time now, so's mine.

I bow in your virtual direction,
Dave "knowbuddhau" Parker
Oak Harbor, WA
Myth-Jack THIS

Elisabetta Serani, The Flea (1657)

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
‘Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

John Donne, The Flea (ca. 1610) in Poems of John Donne, vol. 1, pp. 1-2 (E. K. Chambers ed. 1896)

The flea has an enviable position in literature, especially from the fables of Aesop to the various flea-inspired tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Sometime in the later nineteenth century, modern notions of sanitation intervened, and its literary demise began. But its role varies—it is often somewhat comic, reminding man of the frailty of his condition and of the fact that even the tiniest and most unassuming of creatures can afflict him. (Truer than many knew at the time, of course, since we now know that the flea was the principal vehicle for the spread of the Black Death and numerous other plagues). But the peak of the flea as a subject of art must have been in the seventeenth century, when it served as a subject for dozens of significant paintings (by Crespi, Piazzetta, de la Tour and Serani, for instance, whose painting provides a subtly masked sexuality) and became a steady topic of poets and songwriters. From this period, Donne’s poem stands at the unchallenged pinnacle. It’s a poetic tour-de-force, an amazing demonstration of innovation and dexterity. It addresses simultaneously an utterly trivial subject and one which could not be more profound, and its imagery is extremely daring. The voice is also intriguing–it opens with an imperative tone, then turns philosophical, introspective, then it marshals argument for a cause. The voice could just as easily be that of a man or a woman, moreover.

Listen to John Gielgud and Julian Glover read and discuss John Donne’s The Flea in the BBC’s “Six Centuries of Verse: The Metaphysical and Devotional Poets” (1984)

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