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An Explication of "The Flea" by John Donne

Updated on April 22, 2012

The Mingling of Blood

“The Flea” by John Donne is about the speaker and this other person that the speaker wishes to be with. The speaker uses the flea as the basis to his arguments to try to get his beloved to do his will.

The first stanza starts by saying how the flea had bitten him, and then it went on to bite her. He says: “And in this flea our two bloods mingled be” (4). by this he means that they now have a sort of connection between them. It seems like a stretch by the speaker to say that, but in reality, if blood is mixed, it does actually rely upon some type of connection between two people. The speaker is trying his hardest to get this connection to come through in his references to the flea. The last two lines of the first stanza say: “And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two; / And this alas ! is more than we would do” (8-9). The speaker is stating how the flea has done more with their mixed blood than they will do together. The exclamation of disappointment makes the speaker seem more distressed about his metaphor and how it isn’t working as well as he’d like.

The second stanza starts off by the speaker telling his beloved that through the flea they are almost, yet even more than married: “Where we almost, yea, more than married are” (11). He then states that the flea is both of them and the “marriage bed” and the “marriage temple”. (13). The speaker then says the even though his parents dislike his attempts at impressing his beloved, he continues. Next the speaker might be telling his beloved not to try to kill the flea. He basically says that in killing the flea, she would kill a part of him and her as well as the flea, of course: “Though use make you apt to kill me, / Let not to that self-murder added be” (16-17). This makes the speaker seem more desperate, because he is flipping around his tactics towards using the flea to his advantage.

The third stanza starts with the image of a purple nail: “Purpled they nail in blood of innocence?” (20). A purpled nail makes one think of smashing it against something. The speaker is complaining about how his woman smashed the flea: “Wherein could this flea guilty be,” (21). The speaker then says that his beloved has “triumph’st” (23). And then goes on to say that she is weaker for killing the flea, which hard part of her in it. Now the speaker wants his beloved to yield to him, since she has already killed a part of herself: “when though yield’st to me,” (26). The speaker says that the flea took life from her, and if his first argument still holds true, then the flea has also taken some life from him.

The speaker throughout the poem believes that his persistence will eventually wear his beloved down, but in the end that isn’t so. The simplicity of the idea of the flea can lead to some broader explanations for what the speaker is truly saying, but the main idea will still hold true. The speaker thinks that his different arguments using the flea will win him his woman, but it seems that it is not to be.

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