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Seduction in John Donne's The Flea

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Seduction in John Donne's The Flea

Poetry is not only a brilliant form of expression, but also a powerful tool for persuasion. The renowned metaphysical poet John Donne uses the genre for this very purpose in “The Flea,” a work in which he encourages a young woman to have premarital sex with him. Donne backs his argument by referring to a flea that has sucked his own blood as well as his lover’s. In the first stanza Donne assures the woman that sleeping together would be a minor act. When he says “How little that which thou deniest me is” he promises the woman that the act would be as miniscule as the flea is in size (1.2). Also, by using the word “deniest” he tries to make the women feel a sense of guilt, as if she is depriving him of something that he is rightfully entitled to. He goes on to say that “in this flea, our two bloods mingled be” (1.4). As the footnotes point out, this borrows from a notion presented by Ovid that the mixing of bloods occurs during sexual intercourse. When Donne states that such an event is not “A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead” he is saying that there is no need to cast judgment on the mingling that has occurred. “Loss of maidenhead” implies losing virginity, so the speaker is telling the lady that she should not feel any guilt over such a thing. This would certainly contradict the cultural standards of the time, yet Donne plays it off as nothing to fret over.

In the second stanza Donne changes his attitude about the flea, deciding that it what has occurred within it is actually blessed and wonderful. He points out that there are “three lives in one flea,” referring to himself, his lady, and the flea (2.1). Instead of describing the flea...

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...h honor, when thou yield’st to me,/ Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee (3.8-9).

The rhyme scheme of the poem also makes use of sound to convey meaning.

The “AABBCCDDD” rhyme scheme is similar to the meter because the final lines of the poem stray from the previous standards. In this case it is the final three lines that rhyme to stand out from the sets of two rhyming lines that precede them. When the poem is read or sung aloud, the final three lines stay with the listener because they vary from the usual rhyme scheme. Since Donne’s purpose is to get a woman to go to bed with him, this technique could be a way of subliminally coaxing her to give in to his persuasion. Just as the poem uses a clever comparison to grab the reader’s attention, the sound uses variation to achieve a similar effect.
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