The Flea - John Donne


Victorian Certificate of Education English Flashcards on The Flea - John Donne , created by Jessica Ireson on 06/09/2016.
Jessica Ireson
Flashcards by Jessica Ireson, updated more than 1 year ago More Less
Aimee Vickers
Created by Aimee Vickers almost 8 years ago
Jessica Ireson
Copied by Jessica Ireson over 7 years ago

Resource summary

Question Answer
Summary The speaker notices a flea and points it out to the woman he loves. The flea has bitten them both, and now their blood is mixed inside the flea. He says that no one would consider it a sin or shameful for their bodily fluids to mix inside a bug, so why don't they just have sex. She tries to kill the flea, but the speaker stops her. He says the flea represents the joining of their blood, as in marriage. If she squashes the flea, she will be killing herself, the speaker and committing sacrilege against the institution of marriage.
'Mark but this flea, and mark in this, How little that which thou deniest me is' "Mark" in this context means, "Look at" or "note." He says, "Mark but," as if the thing he wants her to look at is not very significant. The "but" here means something like "only" here. In the second line, he explains that the smallness of the flea relates to the insignificance or triviality of the thing she has denied him. Obviously, she doesn't think the thing she has denied him is so trivial.
'It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee, And in this flea our two bloods mingled be' The flea that just bit him is now sucking her blood, mixing the two together.
'Thou know'st that this cannot be said A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead' He forces the woman to admit that no one would ever describe the mixing of blood inside an insect as a "sin," as "shameful," or as a "loss of maidenhead."
'Yet this enjoys before it woo, And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two And this, alas! is more than we would do' He almost sounds jealous of the flea, as if it were a romantic rivals he has managed to get to the woman without any wooing.
'O stay, three lives in one flea spare, Where we almost, yea, more than married are' He claims the flea contains three lives: his, hers, and the flea's. He even manages to turn the flea into a religious symbol, synonymous to the Holy Trinity, which also contains three spirits: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
'This flea is you and I, and this Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is' The flea contains the essence of both people, and their blood meets like two newlyweds in their wedding bed. The speaker pushes the religious envelope further by describing the flea's body as a "temple" in which their marriage is consecrated.
'Though parents grudge, and you, we're met, And cloister'd in these living walls of jet' Despite the reservations of everyone including her and her parents, it seems, except the speaker, the symbolic marriage is already taking place in the flea's jet-black body, which functions as a church.
'Though use make you apt to kill me, Let not to that self-murder added be, And sacrilege, three sins in killing three' If she kills the flea she will be committing no fewer than three separate sins: murder, suicide, and sacrilege. It's murder because his blood is in the flea. It's suicide because hers is, too. And it's sacrilege because, according to the logic of the speaker, they are married inside the flea.
'Cruel and sudden, hast thou since Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?' She kills the flea and nothing happens. Nonetheless, the speaker is crestfallen. He calls her action "cruel" and hasty. She has taken the blood of an innocent, which also has vaguely religious overtones, alluding perhaps to the death of Jesus Christ.
'Wherein could this flea guilty be, Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?' He asks how the flea could have been guilty of anything except taking one small drop of her blood.
'Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now' The woman has "triumphed" over the flea, and she believes she has also triumphed over the speaker's argument. But now that she has actually gone through with the violent deed, she finds that she hasn't lost any of her strength. She feels exactly the same. No calamity has befallen them.
'Tis true; then learn how false fears be; Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me, Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee' The whole argument has been a way to prove that having sex with him wouldn't be such a disastrous, sinful, shameful thing. When she gives in to his seduction, she'll discover that the amount of honor she loses will be equal to the amount of life she lost when she killed the flea. The poem ends before she can respond.
Symbolism of the flea The tiny insect is the primary image of the poem, through which all the metaphors and puns that Donne is famous for are woven. He takes advantage of the contrast between the small size and general insignificance of the flea and the monumental importance that the speaker ascribes to it. Of course, this is all meant to be very humorous and witty, from the author's perspective if not the speaker's.
Symbolism of marriage and religion The speaker tries to argue that he wants to consecrate a holy and sacred religious ritual: marriage, the union of two lives. The flea represents this union because it contains the blood of both of them. He even tries to accuse the woman of attempting not one but three mortal sins when she tries to kill the flea.
Rhyming Couplets in Iambic Meter The rhyme scheme: AABBCCDDD. These couplets (and one triplet at the end of the stanza) help the reader keep track of the speaker's argument, which generally proceeds in two-line units. The rhyme words are very simple, usually limited to one syllable: this/is, thou/now, met/jet. The most commonly used rhyme words are "thee" and "be." Notice, too, Donne's clever pairing of "me," "thee," and "be" at the end of the poem. He manages to unite the couple in rhyme, if not in real life. The lines alternate between eight and ten syllables (iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter). Each stanza has nine lines, and the first and last line of each stanza has eight syllables.
Show full summary Hide full summary


Futility Flashcards
Love through the ages
English Literary Terminology
Fionnghuala Malone
To Kill A Mockingbird GCSE English
A Level: English language and literature technique = Dramatic terms
Jessica 'JessieB
New English Literature GCSE
Sarah Egan
A View from the Bridge Quotes
Emma Payne
Frankenstein Critic Quotes
Chloe Day
Of Mice and Men Section Overview
Blake Quotes
soozi fullstop
Hardy's Key Themes