The Flea – John Donne

The Flea – John Donne

Meter
Spondee at beginning of stanza 1 and 2
Trochee at beginning of stanza 3
Iambic for rest (tetra & pent)
Tone
pleading/persuasive
Mood
Personal/initimate
Lit tech
Conceit, imagery, sexual/religious diction
Sound devices
Rhyme, caesura, elision, assonance, consonance (sibilant with s), slower syllables (longer)
Donne conventions
Scholastic proof, microcosm of flea, religion of love, anti-petrarchian
Metaphysical traits
Varied verse, conceit, clever, argumentation
1st Stanza
Conceit – sex is being bitten by flea
2nd Stanza
Microcosm – in the flea
3rd Stanza
Anti-Petrarchian
Connections
The Bait, The Indifferent
Form
This poem alternates metrically between lines in iambic tetrameter and lines in iambic pentameter, a 4-5 stress pattern ending with two pentameter lines at the end of each stanza. Thus, the stress pattern in each of the nine-line stanzas is 454545455. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is similarly regular, in couplets, with the final line rhyming with the final couplet: AABBCCDDD.
Younger persona: the young lover
John Donne is full of life and it’s pleasures
Doesn’t hide his embarrassment, he explores many themes ans aspects of life in his poetry carelessly
Conceit of the flea
-Elizabethan times, the flea is an important image in poetry (mostly in PL)
-satirical use as he uses it for sexual purposes
Thought process and change in argument
-alternates argument through alternating tone and imagery
“How little that which thou deniest me is” (l.2)
For an unmarried woman in the seventeenth century sex was a big deal. The speaker’s goal throughout the poem is to make this big deal seem as tiny as a flea.
“It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.” (l. 3-4)
The mixing of the two bloods inside the flea is seen as being equal to the sex act. We also get the feeling that the speaker is trying to turn the woman on with this image.
“Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.” (lines 7-9)
Like a child stamping his feet, the speaker is like, “But the flea gets to taste your flesh without having to woo you! Not fair!” The poem itself is the act of wooing. Also, notice that he never speaks directly about sex, as if that might scare her off. Instead, he uses vague language like doing “more.”
“Marke but this flea”
-use of imperative form: expecting a result
-element of dominance & command
-overemphasizes the triviality of physical love (=sex)
“thou deny’st me”
-selfish -> element of self absorption
-childish pityful tone
“It suck’d me first and now sucks thee”
-construction in a parallel way, emphasises the sexual connotation of “suck’d”
-they are bonded, together through this flea, therefore ALREADY TOGETHER
“alas, is more than we would do”
-over-exaggerating it -> searching for pity/sadness
-pathetic tone ~ wants her to feel sorry for him
-shift of tone
“our marriage bed, and marriage temple is”
-sacredness of marriage ->link to spiritual love and religion
-semantic field of marriage and religion
-shift of imagery, of argument
“and sacrilege, three sins in killing three”
-continual development of the religious semantic field
-allusion to the sin of killing (the flea)
-Hyperbole
“purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence”
-Shift in tone, accusatory tone
-emotional blackmail -> makes her feel guilty, hyperbole
-use of graphic imagery
“’tis true, then learn how false fears be”
-flips the argument to his advantage
-fears are false so your fear of sex is also unnecessary
-humorous, change of tone again
Honest poem
Shows persona as cheeky and/or desperate
Summary
The Flea is a discourse by Donne trying to persuade someone. However, it is a superficial seduction: Donne is searching for physical love ONLY.
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