Analysis of ‘The Flea’ by John Donne

The Flea

John Donne has written so many poems and has touched upon all genres. His earlier poems were mostly on love and later he wrote on religion and god. His poetry had the mark of the English society which he knew very well. He is most known for his metaphysical poems and there is so much of conceit in those poems. He was known for it so much, that his critics tried to see metaphysical strains in his love poems which sometimes bordered on eroticism. The Flea is one such poem erotic love poem which is wrapped over a flea.

The speaker or the poet is addressinga woman and brings her attention to a flea on her. The flea had taken from her something that was denied to him. Now what would a flea take? Blood, and does the poet want her blood? Not at all; from the third line we see where the poet is taking his readers. The flea sucked his blood first and then hers. Now both their blood were mixed as one inside the flea. Now mixing of blood was not a sin or shame or loss of ‘maidenhead’. What has blood got to do with maidenhead which means virginity? This is when the reader understands the poet is telling that mixing of other body fluids through sex was not a great sin. He takes this a little further by saying that even without wooing her,the flea is swelling with her blood.

Indifferent to all that was being said the woman prepares herself to hit the blood-sucking flea. He tries to stop her from that stating the most ridiculous reasons. The flea, he says, is both the woman and himselfand the flea was also a marriage temple and marriage bed. He brings in the fact that their parents did not agree to their marriage and he is also aware that the woman is also not very interested in marrying him. He warns her again that by hitting the flea she would be guilty of murder (killing him) and suicide (killingherself), do not forget that both their bloods were mixed in it. To make matters worse that action was a sacrilege as she would be hitting at the institution of marriage.

The poet had understood the woman well because she gave a dime for his words and hit the flea, killing it. Now the poet takes an interesting stand. They realise that both don’t die with this act. He does a complete turnover by saying that having sex was also so harmless. She was unduly worried of the harm that would be caused to her. He assures her that if she yields to him it will be as insignificant and simple as taking the life of the flea. Just as she did not become powerless by killing the flea she would not become powerless if she lost her maidenhead. With this he concludes and the response of the woman is not known.

The poem has three stanzas with a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDDD, thus having 9 lines in each stanza. The lines alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter. The pleas of the lover, centres around the flea. The flea is the main imagery around which puns and metaphors are woven by the poet. The flea is also personified in the line “And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two”. The insignificant flea becomes a ‘marriage temple’ in the eyes of the poet. The metaphor where by killing the flea would amount to murder and suicide is rather hilarious. In this poem the poet is trying to woo the woman to bed; it is as simple as that. But with the use of rhetoric, he takes our attention from it to a flea like the story of the ‘birds and the bees’ in the modern parlance. Reading the title one would never ever imagine a love poem was what was in it and definitely not one with sexual overtones. One is pleasantly surprised but it makes interesting reading and brings a smile thinking how clever the poet is. He is trying to woo a woman in a way no man would have ever done and when he loses out he changes his argument and come to an absurd conclusion. Definitely one of the wittiest love poems of John Donne.