John Donne The Flea Tone

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The Flea: Rhetoric and Poetry Mingling
In John Donne’s poem, “The Flea”, Donne uses the conceit of the flea to contrast the insignificant size of the flea and the incredibly significant metaphor attached to the flea. The speaker of the poem is talking to a woman, trying to convince her into having sex with him outside of marriage. This poem can be broken into three stanzas, of nine lines each, utilizes the image of the flea to convey three main ideas: the first as a vessel where their essence mingles, second as the institution of marriage, and finally as an insignificant representation of honor which would have no effect on them. Donne’s hyperbolic use of the flea extends through the poem as a metaphysical conceit to convey a logical argument out of something seemingly unrelated to the situation at hand.
The speaker starts his argument by first mentioning that the woman has denied the speaker something. However, it is initially unclear what was denied, all that is known is that by taking note of “…this flea, and mark in this,/How little that which [she] deniest [him] is…”, thus paralleling how the flea, just like whatever she denies him, is inconsequential (Donne lines 1-2). This idea of insignificant things meaning much more in the grand scheme of things becomes an underlying thread, which is sewn throughout the poem. The speaker then notes how “…in this flea [their] two bloods mingled be…”, alluding to an erotic mingling of their blood (Donne line 4). This symbolizes the very essence of these two intertwining and becoming one in a single vessel.
The flea is a vessel that symbolizes union, in this case the physical union between the speaker and the woman through sexual intercourse and the exchange of bodily fluids. It is impo...

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... mean nothing in the end. Essentially his argument boils down to proving that sex with the speaker would not be shameful or sinful, and that all her fears are unfounded.
Donne uses the flea throughout his poem as an essential link between sexual conquest and union. The flea transcends its initial existence as an irritating bug and become an existence essential to their union. It is through this representation of the flea, which allows Donne to draw the reader into an argument of carnal desire trumping propriety. The flea is essential to this argument, without which there is nothing grounding the obvious leaps of logic made by the speaker and Donne. The conceit is a popular literary device Donne uses in his poetry, and in this particular case he uses it masterfully throughout the entire poem to create a love poem that straddles the line between poetry and rhetoric.
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