Essay Sexual Meaning in John Donne's Poem, The Flea

Essay Sexual Meaning in John Donne's Poem, The Flea

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Following a unique poetic language of the Renaissance, John Donne's ‘The Flea' is a poem illustrating the metaphor of a flea to represent the sexual act and relations between a man and woman. Portrayed through language, imagery, and structure John Donne's poem is one of conceit and seduction, as the speaker (assumed to be a man) follows a consistent pattern of persuasion to have premarital sex with a woman.
Written during the 17th century, John Donne utilizes an unconventional genre in his poem, demeaning and objectifying the female sex. A common motif in poems of the Renaissance, Donne uses a flea as a metaphorical comparison to sexual intercourse and the eternal bind between man and woman. Illustrated throughout the poem, Donne continues to compare the act of love to the actions of a flea, as it attaches itself to its host, sucks the blood, and later dies. "Mark but this flea, and mark in this," (line 1), immediately Donne introduces the metaphor of a flea, in this line literally describing a flea bite, however figuratively describing lovemaking. "How little that which thou deny'st me is" (line 2), the speakers voice in the poem portrays a very manipulative and chauvinistic tone, demonstrated in the second line of the poem where he compares lovemaking to a fleabite, and by describing the act as ‘little'. Evidentially, the speaker is trying to woe the woman into bed by using a fleabite as a metaphor, portraying that their blood has already been mixed in the flea's body, and therefore it is as if the sexual act of love has already been done. The image that Donne is illustrating in the first stanza of the poem is a man and woman lying in bed, being bitten by a flea, thus ‘mingling' their blood as one. "And in this flea, our two b...

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... bed, by alluding to the mixing of their blood in a fleas body, however in the third stanza the woman kills the flea, and demonstrates that it changes nothing. Thus, there is a reversal of the argument, as the speaker is no longer trying to convince the woman otherwise, and the tone continues to be driven by conceit. "Cruel and sudden, hast thou since/purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence" (lines 19,20). Here the diction shows that although the woman's emotions are not portrayed nor is her voice employed in the poem, it is obvious that she has made an affect on the speaker and his diction portrays slight anger.
Therefore, through clever manipulation of the metaphor of a flea, structure and rhyme scheme, and tone, Donne portrays the outlook of a male speaker towards sex, as he consistently trivializes and simplifies the act of love in order to woe a woman into bed.

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