Analysis of The Flea by John Donne.
Click here for the poem: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/flea.php
The Flea is a good poem to dig under, mainly because of the witty sexual innuendoes tucked in each stanza. It is without a doubt the cleverest – but also oddest – pick up line I’ve stumbled across!
A little background is useful before undressing this poem. The author, John Donne, was at this time experiencing frustration because he had juts married the love of his life, Anne More, although it was deeply against her parent’s wishes and since they were powerful people, they got Donne thrown into prison. This poem was probably written before the pair got married – the reason of which will soon become evident.
What makes the poem memorable, and what must be grasped is the object the flea represents – the consummation of Donne and Anne. In the old times, people believed that during intercourse blood would mingle, and Donne has taken the fact that the flea has sucked blood from both himself and his lover to his advantage in arguing that the flea now possesses a mingling of their blood, and “pampered swells” from the richness of it. Yet, he laments that that was “more than we would do,” which is the point in the poem when we realize the lover refuses to lose her virginity, afraid the marriage with Donne would shame her, and the poem is therefore a disguised wooing attempt.
Bearing in mind that the flea now possesses three blood types – Donne’s, his lover’s and its own – there are now “three lives” in one flea and Donne uses this to further argue that the lover must not attempt to swat the flea (which she would probably do under the circumstances, assuming that the wooing may be getting creepily out of hand and too figurative), as the flea is their “marriage temple,” holding their holy unity within “living walls of jet,” which refers to the flea’s skin. The speaker argues that by swatting the flea, the lover not only commits “self-murder,” but also sins thrice because there are, after all, “three lives” within that flea.
So, after all the speaker’s efforts to protect this flea, the climax of the poem arrives as the lover – probably disturbed beyond compare at this points – swats it anyway and smears her “nail in blood of innocence,” the innocent object being of course the flea. Here is when the speaker has no choice but to lament and complain – he questions where the flea was “guilty” and wonders at her “cruel and sudden action.” However, what truly turns this poem comedic is the final three lines, where the speaker gives one more clever shot at trying to get this girl, despite everything that has gone wrong. “Just so much honor when thou yield’st to me,” he says, “Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.” He refers to the girl’s “false fears”, which is her fear of losing her virginity due to her parent’s “grudge.” Donne says she has really no reason to be afraid of wasting any extra honor because the amount of honor she has already lost sinning, by killing the flea that consummated their love, can’t be more than the amount of honour she’d potentially lose if the two make love. Everything will ‘cancel out’ and yielding to him won’t make a difference regarding her honour, and Donne doesn’t mind about his own either. Moreover, she “find’st not thyself, nor [. . . the speaker] the weaker now” so it is not as if her ego would suffer a blow either. So, even though Donne began this rebuttal with “’Tis true,” he still manages to whip things around and eventually essentially say, “Why not do it anyway” to his lover.
It is funny to think that John Donne – who later become a priest – ever came up with such a metaphor!