The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In the lyric poem “The Flea,” by John Donne, a clearly-individualized speaker attempts to persuade a lady to make love with him. He does this through a clever, well-constructed, tongue-in-cheek argument. Presented as a conversation between two people in which the man does all of the talking, the speaker pleads for the love of the woman. The silent woman responds with an unequivocal action; she squashes the flea and, in effect, his argument. The plea takes the form of three patterned stanzas of rhymed, generally iambic pentameter verse. This strict form belies the familiar manner the speaker assumes as he, apparently spontaneously, develops an analogy about himself and the lady and a flea. In the analogy, he compares what he would like to see happen, their intimate union, with what they can observe and assume about their blood mingling within the body of the flea.

The speaker begins speaking as if he and his longed-for mistress were already in a conversation. He seems to be pursuing yet another direction in his attempt to effect the woman’s acquiescence when he tries this: “Mark but [look at] this flea.” In pointing out the flea which has jumped into sight, the man begins an extended analogy that demands witty explanation and elaboration in order that it become a rationale for his position. He says that because the flea has sucked the blood of both of them, they are intimately connected, yet as all, his lady in particular, know there has been no...

(The entire section is 550 words.)