M

Stolen moments have

              left me unable to breathe.

                              Our bodies entwined.

 

The only witness

                are painted yet barren walls.

                                Static; unaware.

 

Stolen moments have

                left me wanting more of you.

                                Don’t ever let go.

 

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The Flea

Whenever viewing erotic paintings, John Donne’s The Flea springs to my mind. In this intriguingly lusty poem, a flea engineers a consummation between a clandestine couple by mingling their blood it sucks in its own body.

I feel like that sneaky flea, serving as an intermediary between the fateful lovers, and being complicit in the sexual affair whilst not actively engaging in it. Then I check the distance between the painting and me – the discreet distance that prevents any hypnotized ones from absorbing too further and caressing the painting without noticing.

It is safe to consider myself a very ‘sexual’ person, and so this poem has become one of my ultimate favorites. The thing is, any poetry lover would easily notice how Donne evoked eroticism in The Flea without explicitly referring to sex. That’s more than what my mind can take or make.

John Donne and his pointy beard. Portrait by Isaac Oliver

John Donne and his pointy beard.
Portrait by Isaac Oliver

Metaphysical poets such as John Donne tend to be more concerned with analyzing their feelings than actually expressing them. They use bold and elaborate metaphors, paradox, a mixture of subtle and complex thought, and direct language filled with the dramatic overtones one would find in everyday speech. Donne is famous for being very present in his poetry, giving the illusion that he is standing behind the speaker directing him what to say. The speaker in his poems is always amid intense emotions; so the poem tends to flow the way a person would feel as they are experiencing some event.

The Flea

Marke but this flea, and marke 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 bee;
Confesse it, this cannot be said
A sinne, or shame, or losse of maidenhead,

Yet this enjoyes before it wooe,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than wee would doe.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
When we almost, nay more than maryed 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 cloysterd in these living walls of Jet.

Though use make thee apt to kill me,
Let not to this, selfe murder added bee,
And sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three.

Cruell and sodaine, has thou since
Purpled thy naile, in blood of innocence?
In what could this flea guilty bee,
Except in that drop which it suckt from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and saist that thou
Find’st not thyself, nor mee the weaker now;

‘Tis true, then learne how false, feares bee;
Just so much honor, when thou yeeld’st to mee,
Will wast, as this flea’s death tooke life from thee.

 

 

So how have fleas been incorporated into poetry?

No one really knows when the first sensual flea showed up in a poem. But one of the early flea poems, which some believe was written by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-17 AD), was described as a widely popular, ribald Latin poem on fleas. Apparently, the poem was a trendsetter for fleas and sexual innuendo, because a number of poems from medieval times follow that general theme… and so the flea was seen as an erotic insect in the medieval times.

John Donne’s The Flea is outright lustful – and I love it. It is remarkable for its emotional intensity. In short, The Flea, is a remarkable lyric; remarkable for its realism, for its emotional intensity and for the ingenuity with which Donne has argued the case for physical union without any social inhibitions.

Sailing To Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium by Azenor

Sailing to Byzantium
by Azenor

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
— Those dying generations — at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats, 1928 – The Tower

I won’t attempt a technical analysis of this endlessly interpretable poem, but will content myself in making a short interpretation of it.

The Fear of becoming Old and Irrelevant, and the Intense Yearning to become Eternal

In an old man’s eyes, the current world in which he lives in, despite its beauty, has become ephemeral. It belongs to the young, who cannot recognize him. His life and the life that sustains it are temporary; he’s come to the end of it, and he must travel on into agelessness. This new world is not natural but invented, and to succumb is to abandon his natural life. The timeless world he longs for is really the ancient world, the holy city of Byzantium, inhabited by worthies greater than himself. He hopes that by becoming a monument himself, he will be able to defeat the human condition.

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Something I would like to share…

I first heard of William Butler Yeats in my 3rd year of high school, from this new English teacher whom I thought was rather arrogant. His name’s Glen. He was one of those fresh-out-of-college types – proud, rather egotistical, and yes – overflowing with this intense passion for teaching and terrorizing.

I hated him for childish reasons (naturally). First, he replaced my favorite teacher (who had to leave the school for greener pastures); second, he was too uptight. Short guy, but with quite a tall standard for everything. Perfectionist, yes.

I hated him more because ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ happened. Now before you say anything harsh, you have to consider the fact that I just turned 15 that time – I didn’t know who the fuck W.B. Yeats was or where Byzantium really was. Lit-Mus Week was arriving and we had to come up with a poetry-in-motion piece.

He chose that fucking thing, and told me to choreograph it. FML

A mind of a teenager, and Sailing to Byzantium – what the hell. Well yeah… I was considered smart in high school. Not always topnotch-smart but I was consistently on the honor roll; did some extracurricular activities here and there (including the dance team), and was a contributor for the school paper.

Long story short: I didn’t know how I did it or what the fuck happened, but we won. Like the asshole he was, he didn’t congratulate me. However, what he told me became the turning point of our teacher-student relationship.

With curious eyes and slightly raised eyebrows, he said, “You really know your shit, don’t you?”

The word of choice shocked me, but I knew it was a compliment.  We pretty much hanged out since then. I remember he had Rage Against the Machine mp3s on his computer and we would rock out during breaks. We’ve gotten really close that I was first to know he got himself a pretty girlfriend, now his wife.

I was 18 the last time I saw Glen – at the local park with his wife, and their cute as a button son.

We didn’t talk. He waved hello and just passed right by me. But the look in his eyes was all I ever needed. That knowing look – that even though we may or may not see each other again, we’ll always be friends.

Thanks for Yeats, bud.