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The Poem “The Flea” by John Donne Essay

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Updated: Oct 23rd, 2021

The poem called The Flea is written by a well known author John Donne. This work is considered to be filled with a number of expressive means and stylistic devices through which the author strived to disclose the themes of sex and romantic issues. The author managed to create a very symbolic and logic poem ironically highlighting the issues of coveting virginity.

The analysis of the poem The Flea should be viewed through the author’s personal style of writing and world look. John Donne is considered to be one of the most significant Metaphysical poets of English literature. The poet is also known as the churchman devoting to spellbinding sermons. His life in the Roman Catholic family left a print on the future manner of writing. The author devoted his life and career to religion and managed to highlight the most important aspect in his works. Most of the author’s works reflect the themes of religious issues and secular subjects. The characteristic of Donne’s style of writing refers to the depiction of spiritual struggles, true love and mystical union of human bodies and souls in love. It is necessary to underline the fact that Donne’s works are always deep and emotional. (Jokinen, 2006) The author tries to develop his ideas through the usage of imagery and various literary and stylistic means. Donne sticks to the usage of metaphors and poetic expressive means for the purpose of making his works deep involving and thought provoking. The theme of religious objects can be observed in the work The Flea referring to the classical type of the author’s metaphysical poetry. The style of the poem writing can be characterized as lyrical and romantic as the author’s strived to reflect the character’s feelings and emotions through the flea image. The theme of religion in the poem under analysis is merely presented through the usage of imagery:

“Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two…” (Donne, The Flea).

The line “one blood made of two” is aimed at the depiction of religious aspect through pregnancy or sex illustration which means that child and the mother are the one blood making “two” in Bible. Besides, there are some moments when the author used to demonstrate the notes of holy trinity.

“O, stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are” (Donne, The Flea).

The depiction of holy trinity is considered to be the characteristic of many author’s works. In The Flea this aspect can be observed throughout the whole poem; for example, “And sacrilege, three sins in killing three” where the author strived to underline the unity of three holy souls. Such words as “cloyster”, “blood of innocence” characterize religious side of the author’s work.

The Flea is recognized as a metaphoric poem depicting its deep meaning through the author’s cunning words. The analysis of the work shows that Donne referred to the aspect of innocence lost; the author shows that the loss of honor and that of innocence do not constitute each other. The poem depicts the desire of the speaker to have a sexual union with a beloved person; nevertheless the attempts are followed by the woman’s rejection. The author managed to cover such elements as rhyme scheme, rhythm and conceit.

At the very beginning of the poem the flea is used as a conceit for the purpose of sexual union representation. The initial words of the author are devoted to the flea biting the woman and the speaker.

“And in this flea our bloods mingled be” (Donne, The Flea).

The idea is that the unity in flea can result in equally unity in intimacy. The author underlines the following through the words:

“This flea is you and I, and this our marriage bed,
and marriage temple is”. (Donne, The Flea).

The speaker tries to show that the flea can lead to their marriage. Here the reader can observe the symbolic representation provided by the author as the flea symbolizes marriage, consummation through intimacy and union. The woman used to crush the request underlining the fact that no one can be weakened by its immediate death.

The moment of honesty loss is shown symbolically through the flea by means of metaphorical representation:

“Tis true…Just so much honor, when they yield’st to me, Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.” (Donne, The Flea).

It means that to give the woman’s body to the man would bring as much losses as the death of the flea. This ironical representation is closely interacted with the usage of such alternating lines as pentameter and tetrameter. The author used this method in order to stress some facts and add emphasis to the lines.

“Mark but this flea, and mark in this.” (Donne, The Flea).

The initial position of the word “mark” means author’s emphasis on its interpretation. The same can be observed in the poem with the usage of “flea” word.

The poem The Flea appeared to be very emotional and expressive; it reflects the elements of different literary epochs. For example, the introduction of the words “die” and “kill” are characteristic of the Renaissance love poetry due to the usage of “die” as identification of sexual climax (slang word). The poem is logically written and highlights human aspects through symbolical representation.

It should be noted that the work is characterized by particular movements being characteristic of Donne’s style of writing. The analysis of the poem shows that the first stanza can be characterized as whimsical and contemplative while the second one was presented in faster and more absurd pace, the third stanza is a bit slower with the argument reversal. The idea of movement presentation within the poem was aimed at the flea and sex comparison being gradually formed and leading to climatic and sudden death of the flea. Besides, Donne managed to use a number of poetic devices such as repetition and direct address.

“Mark but this flea, and mark in this…”(Donne, The Flea).

This approach was used in order to make the poem more addressed to the readers making it more understandable and involving. (Donne, 1988).

The poem is a valuable contribution to the world of literature; it is even recognized as “a clever poem” because of the idea of facts reflection and the number of expressive and literary means used by the author. The theme of sexual relationships and intimacy was ironically depicted but managed to touch the seriousness of the aspects used in human life. The introduction of the holy aspects in the poem reflects the individual style of John Donne who strived to represent his vision and attitude to the church and religious issues through the works of literature. The Flea appeared to be the magnificent reflection of irony and imagery in the problems of humanity through the depiction of love, sex and religion interactions.

Annotated Bibliography

Donne, John. The Flea. Circle Press. 1977.

The book contains the poem The Flea allowing us to analyze its major aspects and themes the author used.

Donne, John & Sullivan, Ernest. The First and the Second Manuscripts: Poems and Prose. University of Missouri Press. 1988.

The data provided in the book appeared to be useful for evaluation of the individual author’s style and his manner of writing. It reflected the description of Donne’s experience as the writer and reflects the aspects he used to reflect in his works.

Jokinen, A. The Life of John Donne. Luminarium, 2006.

The biography of John Donne managed to understand the idea of religious theme reflection in the author’s works. The book depicted Donne’s life and career making process exemplifying his works both poetry and prose.

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