John Donne's "the Flea", a Critical Analysis

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Since the beginning of time, one of the most captivating and yet elusive of all emotions has been love. Back in the 17th century most male poets wrote about woman's beauty, while others romanticized lustful inclinations in poetry. The cliché "love at first sight," is too often idealized to be the epitome of "true love"; most poets will uphold to the prior statement such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell. In John Donne's "The Flea" Donne expresses his love for a woman without having touched her. On the other hand, Andrew Marvell in "To My Coy Mistress," glorifies and adores the woman's beauty; however there is a sense of urgency in his words and an underlying sexual current as well. Nonetheless, both poets attempt to persuade their sweethearts to "love" them too. Donnes' approach to sway the woman is more romantic and more persuasive than Marvell's method, which is immoderately lustful to be convincing.

Donne's approach at alluring the woman is unusual at first glance--it seems as though he is trying too hard to win her over by talking about an insignificant insect such as a flea. A flea is a parasite that spreads infectious diseases in animals. Yet in his poem, the flea sucks his blood and then the woman's blood, and the two are then mixed into one creature and therefore symbolizing their `marriage.' "It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,/ And in this flea our two bloods mingled be" (lines 3-4). The flea symbolizes the harmony between him and his ladylove. Blood is the river of life and the essence of what all humans are made of. To have her blood with his mixed together reaches a depth that Donne never thought of before--he feels a deep affection for her and an underlying oneness with the woman--and because he feels thi...

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...eings evidence love as a genuine affection, they are no longer self-centered. On the contrary, their love signifies the most desirable spirit of self-sacrifice." (Ch. 6, Sexual Ethics in Islam and in the Western World) Knowing this it's plausible to conclude that both Donnes' and Marvells' ideas of `love' were actually self-centered for the sake of fulfilling their primal instincts. Also, both poets twist the woman's hesitance to make it seem like the women are hurting them by refusing their respective offers. Both poets' view on love were not "most desirable spirit of self sacrifice" instead the women that they addressed were urged to sacrifice their "coyness" for the sake of the man. True human love goes beyond the surface of a person; it goes into the depths of their soul and the abyss of their heart; it leaves a trace that transcends all material boundaries.
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