Friday, March 04, 2005

From Fleas to Infinity

Fleas came up in conversation yesterday. As a result, I had fleas on my mind today. As I hauled my huge paintings out of the studio and set them in various light conditions as the day moved by - going from north light to east light to south and then west, then from dusk to lamplight - to see how the changing light changed my paintings, I tried without success to recall Jonathan Swift's famous flea-infested words on infinity. I finally broke down and did a search. Here's the quote:

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey
And these have smaller still to bite `em
And so proceed ad infinitum.

During my search I came upon Peter Tyson's essay, "Contemplating Infinity: A Philosophical Perspective", which contains the Swift quote. The web page links to The Archimedes Palimpsest. From there I went to Rebecca Deusser's essay, "Great Surviving Manuscripts", taking all my questions along.

Soon I will go to bed thinking yet again about infinity. I hope my dreams will stay on topic, but I suspect my mind will spend the night constructing fleas. Like nesting dolls each will open to reveal yet another. No doubt I'll wake up squinting.


Anonymous said...

The Flea
John Donne
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny'st 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 said
A 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, 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, 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 since
Purpled 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 thou
Find'st not thyself, 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.

Brenda Schmidt said...

O, that Donne! Why didn't I see this coming...