The Flea and the Sun Rising

1 January 2017

The metaphysical era in poetry started in the 17th century when a number of poets extended the content of their poems to a more elaborate one which investigated the principles of nature and thought. John Donne was part of this literary movement and he explored the themes of love, death, and religion to such an extent, that he instilled his own beliefs and theories into his poems. His earlier works, such as The Flea and The Sunne Rising, exhibit his sexist views of women as he wrote more about the physical pleasures of being in a relationship with women.

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However, John Donne displays maturity and adulthood in his later works, The Canonization and A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, in which his attitude transcends to a more grown up one. The content of his earlier works focused on pursuing women for his sexual desires, which contrasts heavily with his latter work. John Donne’s desire for physical pleasure subsides and he seeks to gain an emotional bond with women, as expressed in his later poetry. The two poems The Flea and The Sunne Rising capture John Donne’s primary motive to get in bed with women.

Donne wrote these poems at an early age, and at that time he was seeking nothing more than a sexual relationship. His poetry depicted clearly how sexist he was at the time and how he used to perceive women as a medium of pleasure. The content of his early poems express an immature and desperate image of Donne, who is dominated by his fixation on the sensuality of women. In The Flea, Donne shows his desperation to have sex by addressing a flea that has sucked the blood of both him and the woman he is persuading.

It is quite awkward how the poet uses this obscure image of the flea as a symbol of love and sex to convince the woman that the flea is innocuous just like premarital sex. Also he refers to the mingling of blood in line four, “And in this flea our two bloods mingled bee”. Donne is implying that the in the flea, which is an erotic image in this poem, there is an exchange of body fluids and this is analogous to the act of having sex. Donne continues to persuade the woman into sleeping with him by stating that “This flea is you and I, and this our marriage bed, and marriage temple is. (Line 13)

When Donne fails with his argument of the mixing of their blood, he switches to a more irrational argument. He uses the flea as an excuse for marriage and that they are now permitted to have sex. Out of desperation Donne shifts to a more religiously point of view by saying, “And sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three. ” (Line 18) This means that if the woman kills the flea, she is killing the flea, him, herself, and God. However, the women squashes the flea along with his argument and Donne is left with one final go at convincing the woman.

The final stanza of the poem expresses his sheer desperation to have sex with the woman as he deviates to using a lenient approach. He blames her not for killing the flea, but says that her act did not damage her honour in any way, and that she should still “yeeld’st to mee” (Line 26), or should still sleep with him. The content of The Flea demonstrates the exact sexist attitude that John Donne possessed when he wrote his early love poems. Likewise, the same desire for physical pleasure can be seen in the poem The Sunne Rising.

This poem encompasses Donne’s ignorance of his surroundings and his obsession for sexual pleasure. Throughout the poem he attacks and challenges the sun with contempt, and does so by personifying it. He is obviously disturbed and troubled by the “unruly Sunne” (Line 1) and tells it to “goe chide late schoole boyes” (Line 6) or “Goe tell Court-huntsment, that the King will ride. ” (Line 7) All Donne wants is to make love to the women who he is sleeping with. He is absolutely against any obstacles that come in his way and very senselessly looks down at such a powerful thing like the sun.

He further asserts that love is the most important thing in the world by saying, “Love, all like, no season knowes, nor clyme, nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time. ” (Line 9) Once again he is giving absolute advantage to love through the argument that love does not work in accordance with time. The sun, in this case, is a trespasser and should not disturb the operations of love that are taking place in the bedroom. Donne intensifies his argument when he says, “This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare. (Line 30)

This is highly significant because it summarizes John Donne’s arrogance towards the sun. He debases the sun by saying that everything revolves around the bedroom where love happens, and this is highly contradicting to nature’s laws. In addition, this line expresses his sexist views, as he cares only about making love to the woman. According to Donne, he finds all the treasures of the world in the bedroom, such as the spices of the two Indias, which implies that for him sex is everything. Another claim that Donne makes, “She is all States, and all Princes, I” (Line 21), shows how Donne looks down at women.

He is objectifying his bed partner by calling her a “state” and describing himself as a “Prince” who owns that state. The Sunne Rising captures the immoral nature of Donne as he tries to amplify the importance of physical romance by challenging the sun and demeaning its power. His sexist views are also demonstrated in The Flea, in which he uses the flea as a metaphor of sex. In both of these poems, the speaker is obsessed with the physical pleasures of love and by downgrading women to objects of pleasure Donne attempts to seduce women for his sexual arousals.

As John Donne grows as a poet and as a person, he displays maturity through his love poems dedicated to his wife, Anne. Two poems that convey this transformation are A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning and The Canonization. Before Donne met Anne, he looked down on women and sought only the physical aspect of love. However, meeting Anne changed his outlook and made him understand the spiritual and emotional experiences that can be gained from loving someone. Both these poems identify the mature personality of Donne, who expresses his divine love for Anne.

In A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Donne emphasizes the spiritual aspect of love, which is highly contradictory of what he sought at a younger age. In the poem, he explains to Anne how his departure would not harm the bond between the two. In order to avoid any “tear-floods” or “sigh-tempests move” (Line 6), Donne euphemizes the situation by saying that crying would only hinder their relationship. Also, Donne emphasizes the spirituality of their love when he says, “But we, by a love…Care lesse, eyes, lips, and hands to misse. (Line 17) Surprisingly, he is telling Anne that their love is not wholly physical.

He further denies that harm would be caused by saying, “But trepidation of the spheares, Though greater farre, is innocent”. (Line 11) Basically, he juxtaposes the effects of an earthquake to the effects of his farewell, and concludes that their separation would not be as severe as an earthquake. Furthermore, Donne explores the spiritual relationship between them by examining the parting of their souls.

This is presented in the sixth stanza where he writes, “Our two soules…. ayery thinnesse beat. ” This suggests that any separation would only cause an expansion of their unified souls, rather than creating any rifts. Donne then utilizes an image of a compass which encapsulates the spiritual bond between him and Anne. Very intellectually, he describes himself as one foot of a compass and Anne as another foot which depend on each other to draw a circle. Another one of his later works, The Canonization, was written to oppose the beliefs of the society.

When John Donne married Anne, he was criticized because of the age and class difference between the two. Consequently, Donne writes this poem to silence society and plead for the innocence of his love for Anne. He defends his love by asking a series of rhetorical questions in the second stanza; one question which is particularly striking is, “Alas, alas, who’s injur’d by my love? ” (Line 10) Donne is obviously passionate in defending his love for Anne and this question shows how he can go against any authority to fight for his devotion.

In addition, Donne uses the images of flying creatures, such as moths, doves, and eagles to show that his love is unique and special. Later, Donne purifies his love by saying, “all Shall approve Us Canoniz’d for Love. ” (Line 35) This is one of the most important claims that Donne makes because he indirectly inducts himself and Anne into the canon of saints, thus making them sacred. The poem ends with Donne calling upon all those who have suffered from similar criticisms; this further dignifies Donne as a saint-like figure.

Therefore, both of Donne’s latter poems expose the transformation that Donne acquires when he meets Anne. His sexist attitude and views transcend to a more spiritual and emotional one. John Donne’s early works viewed women as tools for sexual pleasure, as seen in The Flea and The Sunne Rising. He was very sexist and objectified women as sexual beings. However, when he meets Anne, his work becomes more concentrated on the spiritual and emotional aspects of love. He views Anne as an equal and considers his experiences with her to be more romantic in a non-sensual way.

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