An Analysis of John Donne's The Flea

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Hazel E. Whetstone

John Donne’s “The Flea”

John Donne’s famous poem “The Flea” is certainly one of the most memorable and effective poems ever written. Few readers who encounter this poem are ever likely to forget it. Many factors help to give this poem a powerful, lasting impression, including numerous devices of style and multiple themes and ideas. These unforgettable features appear in every single stanza of the poem.

[S] One technique that makes the first stanza effective is the way it grabs our attention. [I] For example, Donne begins by using the command “Mark” (l. 1). [E] This word grabs our attention because it is monosyllabic, it is heavily accented, and it sounds like a spontaneous demand. [L] However,

[S] a second factor that helps make this stanza memorable is its use of grotesque imagery – imagery that is unpleasant or even disgusting. [I] For instance, probably the most grotesque image in the poem is the flea itself. [E] Fleas are viewed as disgusting because they are disease-ridden parasites that suck the blood of living organisms. [L] Furthermore,

[S] a third effective feature of this stanza is its highly dramatic tone. [I] This trait is evident in numerous words in the opening stanza, including “Mark” (l. 1), “thou” (l. 2), “thee” (l. 3), “our” (l. 4), and “we” (l. 9). [E] All these words imply conversation between two different people within the poem. Each one of these traits helps make the opening stanza effective.

[S] The second stanza is efficient because it continues to draw the reader’s attention to the plight of the frustrated lover. [I] One example of Donne’s efficiency in the second stanza is the continued use of commands words or phrases like “Oh stay” (l.10). [E] The use of this phrase not only demands that the reader pay attention to the topic at hand but keeps the flow of the poem consistent. [L] Secondly,

[S] the comparison of the union of their blood, “three lives in one flea spare” (l. 10) to the union of marriage...
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