John Donne’s “The Flea”, is a poem about a man sharing his desire for his lover using a flea instead of using some sort of a beautiful majestic animal. This poem is an example of an anti- Petrarchan poem. The author uses devices such as metaphysical analogies, conceit and sexual imagery to portray the speakers’ lust towards his lover. In a Petrarchan poem the authors usually speaks of love. The logic in which the speaker uses to persuade his lover into having sex with him is also known as metaphysical conceit.
The poem in it entirety is metaphysical, because he uses a flea as a metaphor for sexual intercourse. He starts by saying their blood (body fluids) are already mixed within the flea “And in this flea our two bloods mingled be. ” He uses the concept that their fluid are already mixed, so there is no harm in them mix during intercourse. The second attempt to use logic to win her “love” would be after she kills the flea. The speaker sees her nail stained with the flea’s blood and asks her what sin could the flea have committed other than sucking the blood from both of them and thus mixing it.
This is again a metaphor for unmarried sexual union. When the speaker sees that no one is affected by the death, he also then, switches his argument. He says there is no harm in losing her virginity. In the poem, the speaker is trying very hard to convince his lover to sleep with him. Donne’s use of conceit portrays the severity of his desires. The over exaggerative metaphors he makes between the flea and making love are insane yet creative. The speaker tells his lover “Mark but this flea, and mark this, how little that which thou deny’st me is. Basically he is saying “by ignoring the flea, you are denying me and my love. ” The speaker also tells his lover if she kills the flea she will be killing three lives, him, her and the flea “Let not to that, self-murder added be, And sacrilege, three sins in killing three”. The speaker does try to impress her by making many metaphors. He says the flea is a symbol of them being marriage. “This flea is you and I, and this out marriage bed…” . Donne’s poem is full of sexual imagery.
His use of conceit, requires the reader to dig deep to find it, but it’s there. I believe Donne wanted the reader to use their imagination when reading this poem in order to find the sexual images. “And pampered swells with one blood made of two”, could be a play on words for two separate sexual images. It could be sexual imagery for the girl getting pregnant. However, it could also be seen as the speaker having an erection. “And cloistered in these living walls of jet” could possibly be the imagery of a woman’s reproductive system.
The speaker comments saying “…yet in enjoys before it woo…”, “…and this, alas, is more that what we would do. ” Expresses his play on words on how he would also enjoy making love to her. “The Flea” is anything but a Petrarchan poem. Donne’s use of metaphysical analogies, conceit and sexual imagery make it anti- Petrarchan. Usually in Petrarchan poetry, the author idealized love and women. Yes the main subject of the poem is a woman, however, all the speaker wants to do is have sex with her.
The speaker tries over and over to use techniques to try to win her over but to no avail. Even in the last stanza when he thinks he has a shot, he changes his argument and is sure he will get her; she just does not fall for it. I do not think a flea was the best representation to get his lady to give it up. Usually in Petrarchan poetry there is a beautiful creature to symbolize desires. The next time he decides to convince a lady to have sex with him, perhaps he will use a bird or a puppy.