The Flea by John Donne- Classic Love Poems

English Love Poem, Love Poems
The Flea by John Donne
Hemali Adhiya

Some poets need no introduction. John Donne is one of those classic poets who is famous for his metaphysical poems. He had the knack to pick up the littlest things from the environment and use it to write unique poetry. The Flea by John Donne is one such poem too. His poems were different and not something that the audience in those centuries welcomed openly. But for a group of people who enjoyed reading Donne’s work, he wasn’t popular until the early 20th century when he received greater acceptance.

The fresh appeal in Donne’s poems contrasting with passion and talks of physical love became a reason for criticism. His poems were exemplary that spoke to people about intimacy openly. Whether people liked it or not, something is arresting about the subjects he wrote about and the emotions he expressed so uniquely.

The Flea by John Donne is one of his most famous poems. It is humorous in its own way when the poet speaks about how a flea acts as a stimulus to get closer to his beloved. It’s simple, classically metaphysical, and interesting at the same time.  Here’s the poem where the speaker is trying to woo his love to have premarital sex.

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The Flea by John Donne

Classic Love Poems 

The flea by John Donne

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
    And this, alas, is more than we would do.
Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that, self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;
    ’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:
    Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
    Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.
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The Flea by John Donne Summary

The flea by John Donne summary

One read at the poem, and you’re already engrossed enough to understand The Flea by John Donne. Let’s still take a little dip into what the poem is about.

Donne, in the poem The Flea, is in the mood to convince his lover to get physical with him even though they aren’t married. But his beloved denies his wish, knowing that it is a sin. Donne, although, isn’t one to give up. He makes an argument that the flea that bit him first, and then his woman, now has a mix of both their blood. If that kind of intimacy, of their blood mixing in a flea’s body, is harmless, then giving in to his physical need is harmless too.

As the poem, The Flea by John Donne progresses, we see the poet fight to save the flea’s life. His lady love is about the kill the flea like we all do when we see a mosquito buzzing around our heads, Donne, stops her from doing so. He compares the fly to their “marriage bed”, where they both would some day become one. But in Donne’s perspective, they are already one in the flea’s body He also goes on to call the flea their “marriage temple.”

But ultimately, she kills the flea, for which Donne presents his feelings too. He tried to stop here by using the word sacrilege, meaning committing three sins by killing three people. But then he also calls her cruel for killing the innocent flea, which hadn’t done any more than sucking a drop of blood out of her body. The woman in the poem, The Flea by John Donne, doesn’t think that either of them became any nobler by choosing to kill or not kill the flea. But Donne retorts with his fascinating argument. He claims that sleeping with him wouldn’t make a difference to her honor either. It wouldn’t be less or more!

In the end, he draws her attention to how she killed an innocent flea only to win an argument with him.

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The Flea by John Donne Analysis

The flea by John Donne analysis

Yes, the syntax in The Flea by John Donne is difficult for a reader to understand what the poet intends to convey. But, if read with help, one can only understand why this is Donne’s one of the most erotic love poems in the Elizabethan age. Although, the poem wasn’t published until two years after the poet’s death owing to the criticisms his work attracted.

There is quite some spark of religion in the poem when John Donne talks about sin, marriage temple, and even sacrilege. Later, Donne indeed becomes the dean of a cathedral college much later in his life. Some might even call the poem’s theme dark, but it doesn’t seem like that to me, at least.

The Flea by John Donne has drama, psychological play, a little bit of romance, eroticism, and, of course, religion. The poet leaves the argument with him talking about how his love ended up killing the flea for a trivial matter only to make it clear that she wouldn’t yield to him. Interestingly, he uses the flea as a metaphor in an attempt to woo his beloved. The subtle ways in which he asks for physical love but doesn’t literally use the word “sex,” nor forces or belittles her for her faith, is praiseworthy.

What happens after is something that John Donne leaves to our imagination. What do you think the lady would have said in response to Donne’s last three lines? If you come up with something, let us know in the comment section below. The Flea by John Donne is one of my favorites from his collection. Which one is yours?

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