Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Flea” is a love poem with a difference. It reflects a new approach toward poetry. Its unconventional analogy, it extensive exploration of the subject to serve as a logical argument, and it playful intellectual tone give it fresh, even revolutionary qualities that made it appealing in its day. Donne exerted a strong influence on his contemporaries, was studied by Dr. Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century, admired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the nineteenth century, and became an important influence on twentieth century poets, especially the poet and critic, T. S. Eliot. John Donne has always had an important place in the canon of English literature.

“The Flea” was written by a man who was not a professional poet but a man who initially wrote poems as a small part of a full and busy life, circulating them in manuscript to his social circle—a group of sophisticated, intellectual friends, and to his patronesses. His poems like this one explore the many moods and experiences of love—the hopeful, the philandering, the angry, the thwarted love. Later they explore secure and happily married love and, even later, religious love. This work in many ways typifies Donne’s poems. It has the colloquial or conversational tone. It, like many of his poems, addresses his current love. It clearly delights in it own paradox and wit. It is structured and formal but explodes that form, here with direct address and exclamation. The poem, like others,...

(The entire section is 490 words.)