Johne Donne's The Flea Essay

1093 words - 4 pages

“The Flea” John Donne observes a typical bar, every Saturday night sweat drenched bodies emitting alcohol and pheromones from every pore, exchange conversation, pleasantries, and yes even sex (perhaps not directly in view but certainly eluded to). Is this animalistic, barbaric behavior acceptable? Should sex be taken so lightheartedly? Or do we take it too seriously, guarding sex like it was the Holy Grail, or the secret to life itself? These questions may be to deep and pointed for most to approach, yet John Donne in his poem “The Flea” wades through them like the kiddy pool. In this clever poem Donne uses a flea, blood, and the murder of the flea as an analogy for the oldest most primal exchange, sex. Donne, through symbolic images, not only questions the validity of coveting virginity but also the importance of sex as it pertains to life. The metaphors in “The Flea” are plentiful, but the symbols repeated throughout the poem are clear, beginning with the most prevalent, and the flea. This small parasitic creature is chalk full of symbolic meaning. During the time this poem was written (the Renaissance) the flea was use in many poems about sex. I derive that in this particular poem the flea is symbolic of the act of sex from the speaker’s remark in the beginning, “Mark but this flea, and mark in this, how little that which deniest me is” the flea is small and inconsequential, his lady denies him sex, which the speaker believes is also petty. The flea is described as a marriage temple and a carrier of life, but in the next stanza as something insignificant and small. The speaker applies a certain duality to the flea and therefore to sex. The metaphor develops more as it relates to the other symbols. Blood is used more than once as a symbol. The speaker talks of the blood reverently and equates it to honor. Blood in this poem is symbolic of life and the soul. The speaker remarks that in the flea his blood and his lady’s blood were mixed, therefore during sex their souls are “mingled” and become one. This is where the flea becomes a marriage temple. During this part of the poem the he speaks respectfully within the metaphor about sex, noting that it can be a spiritual and important thing. But this is eventually revealed to be only a ploy to prove that if the speaker’s lady can treat sex so irreverently after he had made comments about how sacred it was, than sex should not be dealt with so seriously. After the speaker’s lady kills the flea he asks her if she has “purpled her nail in the blood of innocence”. Using Donne’s metaphor as a basis for interpretation the result is that he asks her if they finish the act of sex (kill the flea) if it will have really diminished her innocence. The speaker is commenting that sex does not have the power to take away innocence or life. The murder of the flea also adds to the overall metaphor. When the speaker and his lady’s blood is mixed in the flea the speaker refers to the flea as a...

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