An Explication of "The Flea" by John Donne

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  • Topic: Poetry, Kill, Seduction
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  • Published : April 18, 2006
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Explication of "The Flea"
John Donne's "The Flea" (rpt. in Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson, Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 8th ed. [Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2002] 890-891) explains that a teenage male will say almost anything in order to seduce a woman. The reader discovers that "The Flea" is about a man who is quick on his feet, clever, and persistent in trying to win the woman. With his poem, Donne also gives the reader an insight to his own life as a Casanova before entering the ministry. This poem consists of three stanzas, which demonstrate the structure and meaning of the poem. The speaker compares the woman's life with the man to the flea while the woman is itching to kill it. In the first stanza, the man tries to seduce the woman. In the second stanza, the woman disagrees and disapproves of the seduction efforts. Finally, in the third stanza the man accepts the fact that she denies him, but tells her that he will not give up his efforts.

Stanza I is a plea from the speaker to the woman for her to give up her virginity, which arranges a seductive tone for the opening stanza. During the Renaissance time, the belief was that when a man and a woman had sex, there was an exchange of blood. Therefore, as the speaker says that the flea "suck'd me first, and now sucks thee, / And in this flea our two bloods mingled be." he shows it is in the flea's nature to suck blood, as it is in human nature to give in to temptation. The man knows this girl would be ashamed and tells her that it is not "A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead." that she gives in and has relations with him.

In Stanza II, the speaker is aware that he is stretching his limits with the woman, but continues to strive for her creating a tone of false awe, respect, and love. Since the mixed blood of the man and the woman is inside the flea, they are "more than married", and the flea represents a pseudo "marriage bed, and marriage temple." The speaker makes sex seem allowed...
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