Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Upon being prickèd by a flea

How doth the little flea leap from the cat
Onto the rug and thence unto my shin?
And how, once there, doth creep this petty gnat
Betwixt my leg hairs thence unto the skin?
Though I do vacuum seldom as a rule,*
The onset of the season of the flea
Me maketh vacuum almost constantly
Lest wicked fleas** from out my veins suck fuel.
When vacuum cleaners cease to suck up fleas
And fleas persist in sucking on my legs,
When threatened with all manner of disease,***
And knowing fleas in rugs do lay their eggs,****
Then time to flea bomb, though it poison be,
And though it may deform my ovary.*****

* The first vacuum cleaner, patented in 1869 by Ives W. McGaffey, required the operation of a handcrank whilst in use. I have always found this something of a deterrent to ardent hoovering.

** "The wicked flee where no man pursueth" (Proverbs 28). Let that be a lesson to us.

*** i.e., plague, bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, flea-borne typhus, none of which, strictly speaking, is carried by the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis.

**** Curious factoid about flea reproductive practices: the rabbit flea only lays her eggs upon ingesting the blood of a pregnant rabbit, thus the flealets hatch around the same time as the rabbit kittens. Sinister.

***** Of which there are, to date, two.


Anonymous said...

Take thee to the Kerosene Baths, my dear Doctor! Cleanse thy flesh forthwith!

TimT said...

This is all quite true, I vacuum my legs quite seldom too. And when I do, I make sure it's not with one of those damnable hand-crank vacuums; they take ages to start.

Perhaps the flea needs some time out with flies in a flue:

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were trapped, so what could they do?
Said the flea, 'Let us fly!'
Said the fly, 'Let us flee!'
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Anonymous said...

Zounds! Was that an original work, Herr Tymnus? I am struck with the profoundest awe if it was!

TimT said...

Indeed no, an old limerick; I know a few of them, ranging from innocent tongue twisters to a surprisingly lewd one about 'A young girl from Aberwystyth'.

Anonymous said...

The Wicked Flea

Mark my poor sis, and note with a kiss
How itchy and spotted her poor leg is.
First it was jumped on, and then was bit
When on her shin a naughty insect lit.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A failure of housework, nor at that
The fault of any (except, perhaps, the cat).
Yet this poor woman,
Vegan though she be,
unhappily, now doth feed
The Flea.

-- Sr Sonia

alexis said...

St John: rest assured, I am veritably awash with industrial strength paraffin.

Sonia: just to reiterate what I did say by email: You're a poet
And you don't know it
Two more legs
And you'd be a go-at
(i.e., bravissimo!)

Tim: originality schmoriginality. Your powers of recall (or on-line research) are commendable indeed. That's quite some quoting you do.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Doctor. Let me echo your sentiments, raise high my voice, and commend your estimable correspondents on their lively, scintillating, and generally enriching works! You keep superb company.

alexis said...

If you do say so yourself!

But yes, if the young people won't think I'm being overly sentimental, I'll say that I think I done got myself some fine interlocutors.

TimT said...

Poetry about fleas and flies is surprisingly wide and varied (I've even done a few myself), but this afternoon I was put in mind of Ogden Nash's wonderful poem, 'The Strange Case of the Entomologist's Heart', which I highly recommend. I tried to find it on the web, but no dice: had to wait until I got home.

Consider the case of Mr Suggs.
He was an eminent entomologist, which is to say he knew nothing but bugs.
He could tell the Coleoptrea from the Lepidoptera,
And the Aphidae and the Katydididae from the Grasshoptera.
He didn't know whether to starve a cold or feed a fever, he was so untherapeutical,
But he knew that in 1737 J. Swammerdam's Biblia Naturae had upset the theories of Aristotle and Harvey by demonstrating the presence of pupal structures under the larval cuticle...

Etc, etc. I urge you all to find it in a library now (or as soon as possible), it's in Nash's collection 'Versus'.

alexis said...

That's grand! Thanks. Nash also wrote this, one of the pithiest poems in English:


'ad 'em.

One of these days I'm going to write a 5000 word exegesis of that couplet, both as an exercise in the fatuity of criticism and because this poem does, I think, mean quite a lot (although perhaps I'm getting carried away by the existential dread the flea inspires in me).

TimT said...

Hate to be a pedant, but Nash may not have written that poem at all. According to google it originally had the title 'On the Antiquity of Microbes'*, and was by some guy called Strickland Gillilan writing in the late 19th/early 20th century. So there you go, there's a whole section of the essay that can be devoted to the question of authorship and authenticity. Maybe you should go for a thesis and not just an exegesis...

*Interestingly, this website mixes up the two titles and throws in a little extra just for entertainment value to come up with the title "A Dissertation on the Antiquity of Fleas".

alexis said...

No, please, pedantry's my middle name.

As for your revelations: very interesting. Like the flea itself, which seems to spring fully formed into existence, this poem appears to have no discernible parentage.

I note that most quote the second line as "Had 'em". I got my "'ad 'em" from Simon Armitage's introduction to _Short and Sweet: 101 Short Poems_, which is where I encountered the Nash attribution.

I can see this essay now, "The Auto-Genesis and Mutation of 'Fleas'".

TimT said...

That would make your initials APH, and if you were ever to ID yourself that way, you would be an APHID.

I feel we have come full circle here, proving the interconnectivity of everything, or something.

alexis said...


The APHID and the pedANT.