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The Flea Essay

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Following a unique poetic language of the Renaissance, John Donne's 'The Flea' is a poem illustrating the metaphor of a flea to represent the sexual act and relations between a man and woman. Portrayed through language, imagery, and structure John Donne's poem is one of conceit and seduction, as the speaker (assumed to be a man) follows a consistent pattern of persuasion to have premarital sex with a woman.

Written during the 17th century, John Donne utilizes an unconventional genre in his poem, demeaning and objectifying the female sex. A common motif in poems of the Renaissance, Donne uses a flea as a metaphorical comparison to sexual intercourse and the eternal bind between man and woman. Illustrated throughout the poem, Donne continues to compare the act of love to the actions of a flea, as it attaches itself to its host, sucks the blood, and later dies. "Mark but this flea, and mark in this," (line 1), immediately Donne introduces the metaphor of a flea, in this line literally describing a flea bite, however figuratively describing lovemaking. "How little that which thou deny'st me is" (line 2), the speakers voice in the poem portrays a very manipulative and chauvinistic tone, demonstrated in the second line of the poem where he compares lovemaking to a fleabite, and by describing the act as 'little'. Evidentially, the speaker is trying to woe the woman into bed by using a fleabite as a metaphor, portraying that their blood has already been mixed in the flea's body, and therefore it is as if the sexual act of love has already been done. The image that Donne is illustrating in the first stanza of the poem is a man and woman lying in bed, being bitten by a flea, thus 'mingling' their blood as one. "And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be" (line 4), the speaker simplifies the act of love, drawing a parallel to the interception of fluids that would occur during sexual intercourse and therefore is trying to convince the woman that her virginity is no longer something divine to treasure till marriage. The metaphor is further enforced in lines 8 and 9 when Donne illustrates the image of the swollen flea "pampered swells with one blood made of two" (line 8) introducing the image of a baby, and the idea of pregnancy. With the possible allusion of a pregnancy Donne is emphasizing that he is attempting to sleep with the woman. Thus, Donne continues to use the image of a flea to unconventionally simplify lovemaking. The absurdity of the poem is portrayed through the use of a flea to convince a woman into bed, when a flea would typically connote repulsiveness, dependency, and something ugly and simple, which mooches off of others. In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker continues to emphasize his conceit, although it has become clear that the woman wants to remove the flea from her body, and consequentially the relationship with the speaker. "Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare" (line 10), the speaker is now relying on guilt, persuading the woman to spare not only the life of the flea, however he goes as far as mentioning the lives of himself and the woman. Drawing a comparison once again to the act of love, the speaker mentions marriage, portraying that the flea has joined them eternally much like a marriage would. Marriage is a significant motif in the second stanza, which also relates to the continuous religious imagery of the poem. Knowing that John Donne was enculturated in a Catholic family, it is typical for his religious background to be represented in his work. Moreover, the reoccurring religious diction could be employed in order to entice the woman more, through employing various aspects of her belief. "This flea is you and I, and this/our marriage bed, and married temple is;/Though parents grudge, and you, we are met,/And cloistered in these livings walls of jet" (lines 12,13,14,15). The speaker continues to emphasize the metaphor of a flea, going as far as saying that the body of the flea is their marriage temple or bed, and they are 'cloistered' inside. The absurdity that is clearly demonstrated in the second stanza of the poem is significant in these lines, where although in Catholicism sex before marriage is a sin, the speaker is convincing the woman to do so, and paralleling religious imagery with a flea to. In the last three lines of the second stanza the speakers argument advances, and the absurdism of his persuasion increases, as he says that killing the flea would not only kill the flea but it would kill the flea, the speaker and the woman, because the flea is the 'cloister' of their blood or love. In the third stanza of the poem, it is clear that the woman has killed the flea and the speaker is reacting to her strong actions. The change in tone and reversal of the speaker's argument demonstrates that although the woman's emotions and voice are void in the entire poem, she manages to commit the most powerful gesture by killing the flea. The tone of the poem begins to slow down in the third stanza, as the flea is no longer alive, however the speaker maintains the persuasion and conceit. "Cruel and sudden, hast



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