A Structural and Vocabulary Analysis of John Donne's The Flea Essay

A Structural and Vocabulary Analysis of John Donne's The Flea Essay

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A Structural and Vocabulary Analysis of John Donne's "The Flea"


In his poem "The Flea", John Donne shows his mastery in creating a work in which the form and the vocabulary have deliberately overlapping significance. The poem can be analyzed for the prominence of "threes" that form layers of multiple meanings within its three stanzas. In each of the three stanzas, key words can be examined to show (through the use of the OED) how Donne brilliantly chose them because of the various connotations they had to his audience. Finally, each of the three stanzas contains completely different moods that reflect the speaker’s emotions as the situation changes.

Upon knowing some of John Donne’s personal history, especially of his eventual high position in the church, it is no surprise that religious overtones embellish much of his erotic poetry. The Holy Trinity is the body created by three entities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. "The Flea" shows Donne’s obsession with this divine number and can be examined as a series of several "threes" beginning with the total number of stanzas in the poem: 3. Each stanza contains 9 lines, making the poem a series of 3 stanzas containing each a total of lines equaling 3-squared. As for the total number of lines, the poem contains 3-cubed, or 27. Each stanza contains the rhyme scheme AABBCCDDD. This is also a series of threes, containing 3 sets of rhyming couplets and ending in three lines rhyming DDD.

The word "flea" is mentioned in all three stanzas of the poem. The OED had many entries for the word proving that Donne chose a word with its own trinity of multiple meanings, as a noun, an adjective, and a verb. First, it is a noun meaning the small, black, bloodsucking insect. This is ...


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...ll of the speaker’s hopes are prematurely executed in the third stanza when the lady crushes the flea between her nails. This stanza is anticlimactic because the eager hopping around from argument to argument abruptly comes to a halt with one action. The speaker is rejected, and immediately retreats from his pursuit. His tone becomes scathing and the overall mood becomes like the purple blood that has stained the lady’s nail: "a hue of mourning." The hopes of the speaker coil down from the high apex of hope that builds in the first two stanzas to an embarrassing low in the last stanza.

In conclusion, the true beauty of Donne’s poetry comes through in the tireless search for connections, overlapping, and deeper meaning. As one searches for these meanings, the 27 lines of "The Flea" become a mysterious maze that has no completion and never takes one to a dead end.

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