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John Donne, Sexuality, and the Flea

Uploaded by joe on Jan 03, 2006

John Donne’s poems are similar in their content – love, sex, and religion – and dissimilar in the feelings they express. These subjects reflect the different stages of his life: the lust of his youth, the love of his married middle age, and the piety of the latter part of his life. “The Flea” presents the youthful restless feeling of lust with a true respect for women through the metaphysical conceit of the flea as a church in the rhythm of the sexual act.





The speaker in “The Flea” is a restless, would-be lover who is trying to convince his beloved to give her virginity to him. In truth, it would be possible to envision the poet as a woman, but because Donne is male, and because this process of convincing is generally associated with men, it is easier to defend it being a man (and we lose little in assuming this). To convince his lover, the speaker employs a flea that is buzzing around the two to form three arguments.





The first stanza compares sexual intercourse to two people being bitten by the same flea. Both are connected by “two bloods mingled”; and the act of sex is defined by the mi of fluids, not an act of love or lust. Yet the tone of the passage is one of playful curiousity, which suggests the smile on the face of the speaker as he envisions achieving his lusty goal. We can see the playfulness in his selection and treatment of the subject. A flea is not a normal object held in the light of love; in raising this conceit, we can see the unconventional way the speaker tries to sell his argument. He acts jealous of the flea because it received her blood “before it woo.” The argument isn’t intense or angry; it ends with a mock sigh: “And this, alas, is more than we would do.” The playful conceit of the first stanza lays the ground for the more outlandish claims of the second and third.





The speaker next takes a more impassioned tone as he seeks to save the flea’s life and embellishes his original conceit. As in the other stanzas, this arranges its four supporting arguments into three couplets and a triplet by rhyme. However, whereas the first stanza fairly loosely held the...

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Uploaded by:   joe

Date:   01/03/2006

Category:   Poetry

Length:   6 pages (1,343 words)

Views:   2683

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