The Flea

The Flea

by John Donne

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 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, nay 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 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.

Summary of The Flea

  • Popularity of “The Flea”: John Donne, a famous metaphysical poet wrote “The Flea”. It was first published in 1633. The poem explains the speaker’s utmost desire to make love to his virgin lady. Throughout the poem, he develops a logical argument to persuade her. However, the popularity of the poem lies in its sensual theme and profound love of the speaker for his lady.
  • “The Flea” As a Representative of Sex: As this poem is about physical intimacy, the poet uses “flea” as an extended metaphor to demonstrate his desire to have intimacy. At the outset, he says that their blood is mixed in the body of the flea, implying that they have already been made one in the body of the tiny insect. Also, the mingling of their blood in its body is neither guilt nor a sin. Therefore, he addresses his beloved and suggests that she should not hesitate to be intimate with him. Later, when the lady attempts to kill the flea, he stops her. As he argues, he says that its a sin to kill the flea, as it contains the lives the speaker and his beloved. But, the lady readily kills the flea with her fingernail, which shows her disregard for the speaker’s argument. Thus, she chooses her purity over the man.
  • Major Themes in “The Flea”: Love, sex, and seduction are the major themes crafted in the poem. The poet used a persuasive conceit of flea to show how effectively this tiny insect unites them by sucking their blood. Also, this mingling of their blood does not involve any sense of shame, sin, or guilt. He persuades his beloved through logical reasoning, but fails in his attempts, because the lady kills the flea with her fingernail that signifies the death of the speaker’s sexual desires.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “The Flea”

Literary devices are tools the writers use to create meanings in their texts to enhance the poems or stories and connect the readers with the real message of the text. John Donne has also used some literary elements in this poem to express the speaker’s desire. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /i/ and /e/ in “Yet this enjoys before it woo” and /i/ sound “This flea is you and I, and this”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /m/ in “Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is”.
  3. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things using their five senses. For example, “How little that which thou deniest me is”; “Except in that drop which it sucked from thee” and “And cloistered in these living walls of jet.”
  4. Personification: Personification is to give human characteristics to inanimate objects. For example, the flea is personified in the eighth line as if human pampers it, “And pampered swells with one blood made of two.”
  5. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects different in nature. For example, “flea” as an extended metaphor to express his feelings of physical intimacy. Another example is seen in lines twelve and thirteen, “This flea is you and I, and this, our marriage bed, and marriage temple is”. Here the speaker compares mingling of blood with the act of consummating the marriage.
  6. Enjambment: Enjambment refers to the continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line, couplet or stanza. For example,

“Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?”

With the literary analysis, it proves that the poet has skillfully painted a vivid picture of his intense emotions.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “The Flea”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are three stanzas in this poem with each stanza comprising of nine lines.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The rhyme scheme followed by the entire poem is AABBCCDDD.
  3. Rhyming Couplet: There are two constructive lines of verse in a rhyming couplet, usually in the same meter and joined by rhyme such as,

“Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is.”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used when someone kills an innocent insect ruthlessly. The words like “nail” and “blood of innocence” indicate that a brutal act has been performed.

“Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be.”