Donne’s ‘Sun Rising’ and ‘The Flea’

In the poem ‘The Sun Rising’, Donne tries to present the relationship between lovers as private though their love is imposed upon by other forces –  in this case the sun which Donne addresses in a rude and abrupt manner. Donne presents the figures of the lovers as the most important people in the world and puts his lover above him and everything else. In ‘The Flea’, the voice is much more playful though resolute to get the woman to yield to him as if he is playing a game with her.  In this poem, the speaker sees his partner as competition and tries to win the debate against her.

‘The Sun Rising’, in the form of a dramatic monologue, opens with the persona chastising the sun for waking them up. Calling the sun a “busy old fool” and “unruly”, the adjectives personify the sun into alike an ignorant, disruptive butler. He follows up his insult asking the sun why he would “call on us?” The first person pronoun “us” immediately separates the two lovers from the sun as it is an intruder in their world and this interrogative, with his previous insult, shows how frustrated the speaker is as their relationship is meant to be exclusive to himself and his lover. Moreover, the voice then breaks the rule of adjacency pairs as he commands and further insults the sun, directly addressing it and claiming the it is “half as happy” as the two lovers and he could “cloud them with a wink”, though dismisses the action as he wouldn’t be able to see her. Thus, Donne presents possessiveness in the relationship between the lovers as the persona does not want the sun to be able to distract them, nor does he want to lose even a second of seeing her, so he constantly disrespects the sun to exclude it from their relationship.

Secondly, time is a predominant theme that Donne uses to show how tenacious the love between the two lovers is. The interrogative “must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?” both directly addresses the sun (through the persona) and the reader as Donne asks us whether we believe that time should dictate our lives. The questions invites us to say ‘no’ even though the answer is truly ‘yes’. This is done to exemplify the sovereignty of the relationship between the two lovers as they are not bound by the concept whilst everyone else is – to emphasise this point he lists those who are dependant on time to survive such as “late school boys” and “sour prentices”. However, he also rids of the concept of time as it is not limited by “hours, days, months,” the list of three emphasising the timelessness of their love. Albeit he orders the sun “tomorrow late, tell me,” as the speaker looks into the future – the time adverb “late” appealing to the sun to leave him and his lover in bed – it is also revealing the fact that his conversation with the sun all happens in one morning, possibly in five minutes, whereas their love is endless as time has stopped for them in that room.

Additionally, Donne uses the aspect of place to show how precious his wife is. He compares her to “both th’Indias of spice and mine” implying that she is more valuable than any new, wanted spices or perfume during their time. Moreover, this also implies that their own bedroom becomes a treasure and their house is full of wealth as all they need is each other; the persona plays with the idea that there are all these worlds out there, but the two lovers have denied the ordinary world and created their own. In the last sentence of the poem, the persona declares “this bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.” The repetition of “thy” shows that the sun serves them as they are both the whole world and are at home. The comparison between their “bed”, the “walls” and the “sphere” with the previous connotations to the West Indies shows how love is so real it constitutes the basic reality of the world.

In “The Flea”, Donne uses the extended metaphor of the flea and religious connotations to emphasise the unification of sex and the sacredness, but naturally of it. The relationship is cloistered in the body of the flea where their “two bloods mingled be”- the verb “mingled” shows that the mixing of their blood is an undoable action and they are forever “met” despite the dislike of their parents. With religious connotations such as the Holy Trinity, “three lives in one flea”, and their bed being the “marriage temple”, Donne tries to present a view that the two having pre-marital sex would not be more drastic than killing a flea as the woman has already committed three major sins by doing so.

Contrastingly, Donne presents the relationship between the two lovers as playful (yet demanding ) as we are presented with a one-sided debate where the man tries to persuade his lover to sleep with him. The poem is littered with sexual connotations through its vague language, for example the use of the verb “yield’st” is used as he not only wants her to yield to his argument, but also to him in bed. Moreover, the use of this lexis can also show the possessive nature of the persona as though him and his lover are now eye-to-eye, he wants to be able to assert his dominance in the relationship and one of the first ways to do that is through winning this argument. Therefore, when the persona is able to trick his lover to kill the flea, he proceeds to ask her “hast thou since purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?” to invoke guilt and prove his point. The adverb “since” is used to provoke an outraged reaction from her and to also support his argument as he has already accused her of committing suicide, murder and blasphemy – which only adds onto the intensity of his point that losing her virginity is not much worse than killing the flee.

Moreover, though we do not know whether the the speaker has actually won the debate in the end, Donne has created a game of trickery between the two lovers and the reader. For example, in the third stanza we are separated from the woman as the speaker reports her action to us: “Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now”. This is a clever illusion as we are forced to become an outside left to believe what the speaker reports. The tone of the voice, particularly in those lines, is self-confident and mocking as the adverb “yet” suggests that the persona is warning his lover that she has fooled herself into thinking what he wanted her to, when really it was his plan for her to think and act the way she did. In addition, this trickery towards towards the woman is seen by the audience as a childish action of the persona, however this is (again) another trick awards the reader as ironically, Donne is trying to tell us how ignorant the woman and possibly we are. This is an important presentation of Donne’s views about relationships as ultimately, the speaker in the poem believes that sex and physical aspects are one of the most important foundations in a relationship, but society hinders this progress as some – in this case the woman – is scared of the repercussions and judgements people or God will make for losing her virginity.

Overall, ‘The Sun Rising’ and ‘The Flea’ differ on the point of the arguments: to glorify his lover in the first poem and to persuade her to having sex in the latter. Interestingly however, in ‘The Flea’ Donne argues that sex is an important aspect of a relationship and the ‘The Sun Rising’ can be interpreted to have commenced the morning after sex. Both discuss what can hinder or control relationships; where the persona has a direct argument with nature and time whilst glorifying his lover in ‘The Sun Rising’,  the persona debates and is eye-to-eye with his lover whilst also trying to argue against society and its beliefs on pre-marital sex in ‘The Flea’.


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