John Donne: Poems

Metaphysical Conceit in "The Flea"

In the poem "The Flea," John Donne uses a metaphysical conceit between a simple flea and the complexities of young romance to develop the narrator's argument for a young woman to forfeit her chastity.

By giving the flea a dual meaning, Donne manages to tell a story that is both simple and complex. The metaphysical conceit deals with a flea that has just bitten the speaker and his female companion. The speaker claims that the flea bite joins them as does sexual intercourse, and therefore her chastity should no longer be an issue between them. The flea furthers the speaker's argument in that sexual intercourse unites their souls like the bite of the flea. The narrator tells the woman that she need feel no more guilty for having sex with him than having the flea unite their blood with a bite. Sex to him is a small pleasure - "Mark but this flea, and mark in this/ how little that which deniest me is" (1-2) - and one he believes his lover takes too seriously.

Donne uses the flea, the blood it extracts, and its final murder as various symbols of love. In the past it was commonly believed that one's blood was representative of her soul. In this particular work, the blood taken from the couple symbolizes...

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