The Flea, a bawdy poem of the Renaissance

The Flea (originally attributed to Ovid).

This poem was referred to often in Elizabethan literature, including in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.

Thou little insect, canst thou prove
So great an enemy to love,
Thus to molest the beauteous she,
Whose frame was spotless, but for thee?
I’ve traced the footsteps of thy wrong,
And now pursue thee with my song.
Base vermin! that delight’st in blood,
And juicy virgins are thy food;
Those spots, the trophies thou hast won,
Now seem to blush for what is done;
And when thy gorge is filled with gore,
(Her veins contain the richest store;)
Thou maudlin shed’st repenting tears,
Black as thy self, their stain appears:
Thou dost invade her slumb’ring hours,
And robb’st her rest, as she does ours;
‘Tis then thou wand’rest o’er the plain,
Where we employ our thoughts in vain;
Her lips, breasts, knees, thighs, all is free,

As free as open air to thee.

It grieves me, when I think that bliss,
Without fruition, should be less;
While on her couch th’ extended dame,
Wishing a partner of her flame,
Just as she dies, when none is nigh,

Thou boldly dost attack her thigh;

Nay, impudently darst t’ invade
The sweet recess for others made;
Improvidently, without gust,

Thou’rt made a denizon of lust.

Now let me perish, but my foe
Is much the happiest thing I know;
Thy shape, though strange, must be the dress,

To which Orinda gives access:

Thus masked, I shall discover more,
Than all my courtship did before.
If Nature would transform my shape,

And suffer me to be thy ape;

But on condition, to restore
The features which I had before;
I’d try if magic charms could move

Such wonderful effects of love.

If med’cines be as strong as they,
I’ll presently commence a flea;
And what Medea’s charms have done,

Or Circe’s drugs, is fully known.

Suppose the change—this Pilgrim dress,
Conveys me to the goal of bliss;
Upon th’ extremities I stand,

And thence survey the promised land.

With silence and with baste I strove
To shade me in the sacred grove;
Where unperceived, and acting nought

Of harm, save what was in my thought;

I break the chains of my disguise,
And manhood shoots between her thighs
Perchance the dame with fear oppressed,

Will call me monster, villain, beast;

Threat’ning to call aloud for aid,
When squeamish honour is betrayed;
Then if entreaties fail, must I

dwindle into a pensive fly.

When that is o’er another scene,
Presents me in the lists again;
Then I invoke the Cyprian dame,

To be propitious to my Flame;

And all the heav’nly powers t’ express
Their care of lovers in distress;
Sighs, prayers, and gentle force combine,

To make the coy Orinda mine;

She to my wishes yields her charms,
And hugs the turn-coat in her arms.

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