The Flea Essay, Research Paper
The Flea by John Donne
John Donne’s The Flea exhibits his metaphysical ability; his aptitude for turning even the least likely images into elaborate symbols of love and romance. This poem uses the image of a flea that has just bitten the speaker and his beloved to sketch an amusing conflict over whether the two will engage in premarital sex.
The speaker tells his beloved to look at the flea before them, and to note “how little” is that thing which she denies him. He says that the flea first sucked his blood and then hers, so now our two bloods mingled be. It used to be thought that sex mingled the blood of the two lovers, and since the flea has done that, there is no need to refrain from intercourse any longer. The flea swells with one blood made of two, and this, alas, is more than we would do. For the flea, he says, has sucked first his blood, then her blood, so that now, inside the flea, they are mingled; and that mingling cannot be called “sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead.”
As his beloved moves to kill the flea, he asks her to spare the three lives in the flea: his life, her life, and the flea’s own life. In the flea, he says, where their blood is mingled, they are more than married. The flea is their marriage bed and marriage temple mixed into one. Though their parents grudge their romance, and though she will not make love to him, they are nevertheless united in the living walls of the flea. If she were to kill the flea she would be committing three sins. She would commit suicide, murder her lover, and commit sacrilege by symbolically killing their marriage.
“Cruel and sudden,” the speaker calls his lover, who has now killed the flea, “purpling” her fingernail with the “blood of innocence.” The speaker asks his lover what the flea’s sin was, other than having sucked from each of them a drop of blood. His lover then says to him that nothing bad happened when she killed the flea, that his fears were false. It is true, he says, and it is this very fact that proves that her fears are also false. If she were to sleep with him (”yield to me”), she would lose no more honor than she lost when she killed the flea.
Donne uses his talent at using something like a flea and turning that into a marriage bed and marriage temple where their blood mingles as one. He is able to produce a wonderful seduction poem that tells a whole story of a man begging to make love to his lover in such a way that one normally would not think of.