The Flea: A Lyrical Love Elegy
By Vanessa Harris
The Flea is musical, clever, and riddled with figurative language and double meaning. The author John Donne makes a humorous, and rather convincing, case for why his prospective lover should give in to his sexual advances, by comparing their relationship to that of a flea’s relationship with blood sucking. The vivid imagery, amusing undertone, and seemingly innocent banter make this poem indulgent and scandalous to the reader. Here we will consider how this overall impact is achieved by analyzing the form, meter, tone, and diction in the first stanza. Donne pays careful attention to the form and flow of this verse. It is divided into couplets, with a triplet to wrap up the section. This rhyme scheme helps organize Donne’s argument and present it in a logical way to the reader; with each new couplet we see a new idea. This arrangement, combined with the chosen meter: alternating iambic tetrameter and pentameter, make the poem easy to engage in. One will find themself captivated by the rhythmic momentum of Donne’s lyrical elegy. Another marked aspect of the verse is the tone. Donne, superficially, gives the impression of making a serious case to his beloved. Though, beneath the surface, there are comical comparisons and conspicuously hidden innuendos. The vocabulary plays a considerable role in depicting this tone to the reader. The title, The Flea, itself doesn’t exactly give the impression of a man making a plea in the name of love; a flea is a parasite. The choice of vermin is a portrayal of how the woman views the author, particularly his candid request. She sees the flea with a sense of disgust, just as she views the socially prohibited intimacy her devotee craves. Donne says, “A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead,” (6) maidenhead being directly associated with virginity and connotatively associated with purity and respect. Nevertheless, Donne continues his appeal, stating, “Yet this enjoys before it woo,...
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