John Done's The Flea Essay

1980 words - 8 pages

When one thinks about a flea, an array of images and ideas come to mind. Some might reminisce on a childhood pet, while for others a flea may evoke thoughts of something more sinister, such as widespread disease; however, one topic that is presumably not at the top of the average person’s list of subjects immediately linked to fleas is premarital sex between two young lovers. Although by conventional standards a flea is worlds away from being a romantic metaphor for consummating a relationship, it is exactly the symbol that John Donne chooses to use in this poem. Through the use of literary symbolism, metaphors, and imagery centered on something as seemingly irrelevant to his underlying meaning as a flea, “The Flea” portrays a desperate, albeit clever, young man formulating a cunning argument to convince his beloved to sleep with him.
Although there are a number of points in this poem where one could be tricked into thinking that this poem is simply about a flea, the first two lines clearly reveal that the speaker has an ulterior motive behind what could otherwise be perceived as a simple, somewhat impractical argument. Donne makes it clear that the flea is a complex metaphor for what he is truly concerned with, and it is certainly not a measly flea. The phrase “mark…this” or “mark in this” in the first line is the speaker’s way of telling the person whom he addresses to take for example the flea and realize the lesson they can learn from it. When he says, “Mark but this flea,” Donne highlights the flea’s insignificance by using the word “but” to mean something along the lines of only a flea (Donne 1038). The second line further enforces the idea that flea is of little consequence; however, this line also reveals what the speaker’s grievance is: this person has denied him something that he thinks should not be denied him since it is so petty. Just as people perceive a flea as being something paltry and insignificant in the grand scheme of life, the speaker thinks that what he is being denied is just as trivial (Donne 1038).
Through the use of imagery and metaphors in the remainder of the first stanza, Donne reveals exactly what the speaker is being denied. The image introduced in line 4 of this couple’s blood commingling within a flea is certainly not your average romantic image; however, when referring to the mixing of blood multiple meanings could be gathered from this simple phrase. It can mean not only their blood literally coming together within the flea, but it could also refer to the combination of two bloodlines when two people consummate their relationship and create a child, or, more graphically, it could refer to the mixing of blood and other fluids during the actual act of sex. Lines five and six further enforce the assumption that the speaker wants his partner to stop withholding her virginity from him. Donne writes that she must know that no one would say that the blood mingling in the flea would be “a sin, nor shame, nor loss of...

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