Richard Burton Reads John Donne’s Poem “The Flea”
“Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me, Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.”
By Maria Popova
Though beloved poet John Donne’s exact date of birth remains unknown, it is believed to be between January 24th and June 19th, 1572. As inconveniencing as this flexibility might be for history’s exacting annals, it gives us the luxurious five-month elasticity of choosing when to celebrate his birth. Like, for instance, today: In this beautiful recording, found in the altogether fantastic collection Richard Burton Reads the Poetry of John Donne, the celebrated Welsh actor and Academy Award winner reads Donne’s poem “The Flea,” originally recorded in the 1960s but only released posthumously in 2009, a quarter century after Burton’s death. Inhale and enjoy:
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,How little that which thou deniest me is;It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;Thou know’st that this cannot be saidA sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,Yet this enjoys before it woo,And pampered swells with one blood made of two,And this, alas, is more than we would do.Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,Where we almost, nay more than married are.This flea is you and I, and thisOur mariage bed, and marriage temple is;Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,And cloistered 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 sincePurpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?Wherein could this flea guilty be,Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thouFind’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.
Published January 29, 2013