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The Flea Analysis

Author: Poetry of John Donne Type: Poetry Views: 7048

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, hastthou 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.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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| Posted on 2012-02-21 | by a guest

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the words \"purpled thy nail in blood of innocence\" is a significant allusion to the bible related with the birth of jesus christ. when king ERODE ordered to kill all the children within one and two years old on the grounds that there will never be two rulers for the same country since christ were announced by the earlier prophets to be the \"messi\" . therefore it\'s the blood of jesus that is meant by \"the blood \" of innocence thus killing the flea will mean killing innocent life and would be seen as a sacrilege

| Posted on 2012-01-14 | by a guest

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for some reason i get the feeling that none of you understand that this poem is 100% metaphysical conceit... its a joke... clearly you guys dont know much about john donne, or you would have realized he\'s one of the major metaphysical poets... lol, i like how some of you were trying to justify his BS though, pretty amusing

| Posted on 2011-12-18 | by a guest

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this chat up technique has a 60% hit rate in nightclubs, by which I mean 60% of wome will hit you in the face

| Posted on 2011-02-18 | by a guest

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Our blood is already mingled in the flea,
Nothing catastrophic is happening,
Just sleep with me and see,
The world will keep turning.
Do not kill the flea,
It is love’s key.

| Posted on 2011-02-08 | by a guest

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Donne mate just hit her with a brick then she can\'t say no:)

| Posted on 2011-01-23 | by a guest

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Hey why dont thou\'eth and me\'eth get intemeth. this is the under lying meaning of this poem.

| Posted on 2010-10-17 | by a guest

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ooh em ggg! i love this poem!! it rlly touched my heart! :)

| Posted on 2010-09-20 | by a guest

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This poem is shit. He should of just wooed her and then shagged her.

| Posted on 2010-05-12 | by a guest

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Their love is compared to a flea. The flea is a symbol of blood of 2 people combining sexual experience as this afterall , is a seduction poem.
the last ryming couplet suggests that killing the flea would be killing their love.

| Posted on 2010-03-08 | by a guest

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this donne guy should have just asked the lady nicely rather than go into some quantum bullshit about the flea marrying them. Sheesh, no wonder this lady though he was a creep. for god sake woman, you should have called social services.

| Posted on 2010-02-21 | by a guest

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BUMHOLES are the best, like this poem. i want it in my bum. NOW!

| Posted on 2010-01-22 | by a guest

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In ‘The Flea’, Donne shows a negative attitude towards his lover. He uses persuasive language to woo his lover into losing her virginity to him: ‘This flea is you and I’. The poet uses the flea to represent the physicality of sex with euphemism, to avoid actually talking about it, making the the poem which shows that the physical love could also be emotional. In the poem, the poet pleas with his lover not to kill the flea as it subject seem less coarse. Donnes respect for his lover seems considerably less than in the other poems. This could show how she is represented as more of an object than someone he loves and his feelings seem to be more of a physical attraction compared to the other poems: ‘... loss of maidenhead’. On the other hand, marriage is mentioned on many occasions during represents their union. However, the woman does so anyway: ‘Cruel and sudden, hast thou since / Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?’ . This gives her in an important role in the poem because although she does not have a direct voice, she can make the decisions. By not allowing her to have a voice, he does not think that he needs to consider her opinions and prevents her from fighting back to his statements. This demonstrates how actions speak louder than words in the poems. then quotes her as saying: “thou Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now”,that the death of the flea has had no impact on them so it cannot have been of much importance. However, he then argues back saying: “Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me / Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.” In other words, that if the loss of the flea is not of much relevance, then neither is losing her virginity. In this way, he represents the woman, and her honour, as of little importance. strong theme in 'The Flea' is religion, which Donne almost uses against his lover. As a religious man himself, he demonstrated that to question and reject his statements would be sacrilegious: ‘And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.’ He almost tricks her into believing that his word was good through this technique. This represents women as being incapable of independent thought because he assumes that she would follow his interpretation of religious rules, without question. This could be because at that time women did not have much of a voice or authority in the church. His arguments build as the stanzas continue, as more imagery is introduced.

| Posted on 2009-06-25 | by a guest

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The most important theme in this poem is Marriage. The speaker is trying to seduce a woman into Marrying him. Donne simply uses a Flea as to provide the reader with a sense of imagery " The Flea" is a symbol for a union. A part of the speakers strategy of seduction is to make the woman believe that marriage is just a small The Flea is also a symbol in the fact that it contains both the blood of the male and the female making their blood one as a tactic of persuasion the speaker makes this analogy synonymous with a marriage therefore, making the actual marriage ceremony seem like its not a big deal the speaker goes as far to say "We almost, yea, more than married are." The speaker blatantly tells his Love
"This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;"
There is a conflict between the two who wish to marry and the parents as seen by the phrase "Though parents grudge"

| Posted on 2009-02-10 | by a guest

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O 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, we're met,
And cloister'd 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.

| Posted on 2008-09-02 | by a guest

.: My own interpretation. :.

It is common to ascribe to Donne the status of archetypal logical poet- a man whose works are tightly crafted, confident, and certain in their application of metaphor and analogy. True enough, Donne’s poem seems to suggest a certain self-security: we see a tight, predictable rhyme scheme, and an ordered structure. There is also arguably a wealth of rhetorical resources - Donne does not shy away from using the lexis of the military (“triumph’st”), the medical (“two bloods…mingled”) or even the religious (“cloysterd”; “sacrilege”). Such a feature that might be read as hinting at Donne’s essential confidence in his ability to create a unified philosophy, to adapt a wide range of discourses, to demonstrate poetic craft. However, I want to suggest that the relations of power and position of sexuality in this small poem are a great deal less certain than such an interpretation might suggest.

At the very least, Donne is not simply providing a stylised, easy conclusion but is engaging in a real rhetorical struggle. He chooses to employ exuberant, self-conscious metaphors that often contradict themselves. The conclusion of his poem,

Just so much honor, when thou yeeld'st to mee,
Will wast, as this flea's death tooke life from thee

simultaneously insists on the identification of the flea with the sexual union (i it may be compared to ‘yielding’) and on the impossibility of doing so (referring to the mistress’ counter-argument, where the flea’s death cannot be equated to the death of man and wife). That is, one might translate the meaning of the climax as: ‘this flea’s death did not kill you, and therefore the flea cannot be identified with us, yet this flea represents us, and so the insignificant death of a flea shows you how insignificant (“little”) my enjoyment of you is for matters of “honor”’. Such an argument is obviously a contradiction- he argues at the same time the flea’s capacity and incapacity to represent the woman and husband.

Similarly, he insists on the essential privacy of sexuality, repeating and emphasising “marriage” in line 13, by which he figures the domestic space and its objects as defined in primarily erotic terms. But lines 5 and 6 demand the addressee to consider sexual relations in primarily public terms- “sin”, “shame” or “maidenhead” (that latter word hints as much as social position- ‘-head’ has the same root as the modern suffix ‘-hood’), where a flea is a small, insignificant object that cannot be equated with a sexual union. The paradox that concludes the poem both uses impersonal, public terms- ‘honor’ more obviously, though ‘yield’ also (it suggests a set of broader power relations, and would be associated somewhat, I would argue, with images of sexual relations in terms of larger-scale social hierarchies).

The very slightest charge we could level at Donne is that he seems tempted to sacrifice logic for rhetorical finesse- “three sins for killing three” is of course, not true- to kill three and commit sacrilege would make four sins. This is not simple pedantry, but rather I think it alerts us to a prioritisation of tried-and-tested stylistics over the logical progression that Donne’s tricky arguments, grounded in points of intellectual studies of his age, asks us to focus on. The Flea seems to have its whole dramatic structure- the outrage at killing the flea, the resolution based on creating an (apparently) convincing argument, based around the reception of his logic and the lack of any conceptually engaging debates to contradict him. We seem, in the post-Romantic age, to take for granted a dichotomy between the intellectual and the aesthetic- yet early modern texts suggest far more a congruence of fictional activity and academic debate. Looking at Donne’s arguments with a critical eye, aware of how 17th century ideologies would have responded to the precise details of his postulations, I feel, is important in our readings of this poetry.

In short, Donne seems to adapt his argument as it progresses, sometimes in contradictory ways- a feature that perhaps challenges that image of the metaphysical conceit as unifies, confident figuring of an entire world.

Sexual agency seems rather hard to pin down in this poem. Many verbs related to the action of the lovers’ sexual relationship seem to suggest a remarkable level of passivity. “Deny’st” is rather formal, abstract and does little to suggest the actual concrete action it represents. More significantly, a verb such as “let” is rather passive in its action- the woman who enacts the command is reactive, rather than proactive. The flea seems to be the only being invested with erotic volition:

“Me it ſuck'd first, and now ſucks thee”

Not only is the sly obscenity a hint at the lack of clear hierarchies within a supposedly patriarchal household- the choice of objective case “me” and “thee” (whose similitude is emphasised by the internal rhyme) suggests the femininity of both partners. The flea is the phallus- the object that “pamper'd swells with… blood”, the object with the capacity to “ſuck” (Renaissance perspectives on sexual anatomy held female sexuality and genitals to be an ‘absence’, passively receiving and carrying the results of sexual action. Only male sexual organs can ‘[censored]’ anything).

Yet, at the same time, this is the object that is suddenly crushed, staining the woman’s nail “in blood of innocence”, at the exact moment of her ‘triumph’, a word whose military connotations should, I think, be read as attaching a firm sense of masculinity to its subject. This feminisation of Donne, the apparent contradiction of his argument, and the crushing of the flea occur simultaneously- they represent a castration: the wife destroys the phallic insect; just she deftly counters the argument crafted for the purposes of sexual conquest.

It would be tempting to imagine a far greater sexual radicalism inhabiting the poem, however, than I believe we should admit. This castration seems not the result of an uncontrollable female volition but appears to me as much staged by the male author himself. Looking at the report of the counter-argument:

…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;…

Despite an ostensibly pivotal ‘yet’, the mistress’ response actually proves congruent with the preceding lines, and in fact the very opening of the poem. Donne’s paradox, which he seems to be relying upon for the achievement of his erotic aims, depends considerably on this alternative reading of the flea’s significance- that is: how “little...//… life” will be taken by “this flea’s death”. It is noticeable how this ‘triumph’ actually fits rather neatly into Donne’s rhyme, and more importantly how his choice of pronouns (“thou…thyself…mee”) alerts us to this line being Donne’s rendering of her speech- his pronouns reflect his own perspective. As indirect speech, the feminine voice is interpreted, defined and staged through the poet’s essentially masculine perspective.

This male-ordained self-castration makes the supposedly easy task of assigning gender roles in The Flea a far more complex matter. Donne’s poem hints not at stable patriarchy, but an early modern society questioning and playing with concepts of gender and associated forms of power. There is a straddling of public and private spheres here, yet also a failure to achieve secure identity in either. The Flea points towards a symbolic order in a state of flux

| Posted on 2007-02-28 | by a guest

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John Donne was already married to his wife when he wrote this poem to her. She was above his status and her parents disapproved of their marriage and so they couldn't get together yet. You have to know the history of Donne and his relationship with his wife in order to properly analyze this poem.

The poem is about seduction of the woman with the use of the flea as a metaphor of their marriage. However she kills the flea in the third stanza and tells him that true love does not bear such false fears as the death of the pesky flea. He agrees with her and that's pretty much the whole poem.

| Posted on 2005-11-24 | by Approved Guest

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This is another poem about a man trying to convince a women to have sex with him. This time he uses the ever popular Renaissance flea argument.
In marriage ceremony the wife and husband become one and because their blood has already been mixed inside the flea, the speaker seems to think that they are, by all practical means, married because the were both bitten by the same flea. This helps his seduction argument and when the woman kills the flea he says she’s broken the marriage.
The narrator’s tactics of persuasion aren’t that skillful. If I were this women I wouldn’t be loosing my virginity to some guy who said that we were married because we’d both been bitten by the same flea. The idea is ridiculous. He doesn’t even bother mentioning love, devotion, or respect. He doesn’t even mention the shallow quality of beauty like the last poem we read about a man trying to convince a woman to have sex with him. The best he can say is that they are already married.
As tactfully as he can the speaker changes the argument. He continues by saying that if the woman yields to his advences it will be as easy and painless as killing the flea was. This is a change of strategy. He goes from arguing that sex wouldn’t be wrong but rather her duty because they are married to saying that it wouldn’t hurt so just do it. It’s eloquent but to me thoroughly unpersuasive.

| Posted on 2005-09-21 | by Approved Guest

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