Observe a typical bar; every Saturday night sweat drenched bodies emitting alcohol and pheromones from every pore, exchange conversation, pleasantries, and yes even sex perhaps not directly in view but certainly eluded to. Is this animalistic, barbaric behavior acceptable? Should sex be taken so lightheartedly? Or do we take it to seriously; guarding sex like it was the Holy Grail, or the secret to life itself? These questions may be to deep and pointed for most to approach, yet John Donne in his poem “The Flea” wades through them like the kiddy pool. In this clever poem Donne uses a flea, blood, and the murder of the flea as an analogy for the oldest most primal exchange, sex. Donne, through symbolic images, not only questions the validity of coveting virginity but also the importance of sex as it pertains to life.Order now
The metaphors in “The Flea” are plentiful, but the symbols repeated throughout the poem are clear, beginning with the most prevalent, and the flea. This small parasitic creature is chalk full of symbolic meaning. During the time this poem was written the Renaissance the flea was use in many poems about sex. I derive that in this particular poem the flea is symbolic of the act of sex from the speaker’s remark in the beginning, “Mark but this flea, and mark in this, how little that which deniest me is” the flea is small and inconsequential, his lady denies him sex, which the speaker believes is also petty. The flea is described as a marriage temple and a carrier of life, but in the next stanza as something insignificant and small. The speaker applies a certain duality to the flea and therefore to sex. The metaphor develops more as it relates to the other symbols.
Blood is used more than once as a symbol. The speaker talks of the blood reverently and equates it to honor. Blood in this poem is symbolic of life and the soul. The speaker remarks that in the flea his blood and his lady’s blood were mixed, therefore during sex their souls are “mingled” and become one.
This is where the flea becomes a marriage temple. During this part of the poem the he speaks respectfully within the metaphor about sex, noting that it can be a spiritual and important thing. But this is eventually revealed to be only a ploy to prove that if the speaker’s lady can treat sex so irreverently after he had made comments about how sacred it was, than sex should not be dealt with so seriously. After the speaker’s lady kills the flea he asks her if she has “purpled her nail in the blood of innocence”. Using Donne’s metaphor as a basis for interpretation the result is that he asks her if they finish the act of sex kill the flea if it will have really diminished her innocence. The speaker is commenting that sex does not have the power to take away innocence or life. The murder of the flea also adds to the overall metaphor.
When the speaker and his lady’s blood is mixed in the flea the speaker refers to the flea as a marriage, therefore the exchange of life blood during sex forms a marriage between the partners. The narrator asks his lady not to kill the flea, which is symbolic of the end of sex, or orgasm. It was popular belief at the time this poem was written, that every time a man had sex his life was shortened, thus it is reasonable to say that the speaker is also representing the murder of the flea as his own life being taken by his lady during the act of sex. The speaker may feel that if he should have to give a piece of his life to have sex the woman he gives it to should want to accept it willingly and without requiring the man to woo. Conclusively the speaker states that the flea ha not taken hardly any thing of importance from either him or his lad and, “just so much honor when thou yeild’st to me, will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee”. Therefore the act of sex will not diminish either of their lives and his lady will not be giving up hardly anything by yielding to him sexually. The speaker is trying to reason with his lady by lessening the importance of sex in the grand scheme of life.
Even today, with every movie and TV commercial screaming sexual connotations, is sex as important and life affirming as we make it out to be? In my view this poem conveys it’s message loud and clear, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with it.
This poem has interesting points on which some aspects I agree with. We take sex to seriously, we covet the act of breeding as if it were gold, when truthfully it doesn’t affect us as much as we would like to think. Although that is a very valid point it tends to be awfully one sided and testosterone based. While most would agree that we put to much importance on sex, it is an important issue that carries with it consequences, as well as physical and emotional repercussions.
Now, this may be more relevant in modern times but sex during the time this poem was written still held most of the same connotations as today. For example disease, pregnancy, spiritual repercussions, and countless emotional issues, all which tend to impact more of the feminine population. In this poem the speaker does not seem to be very respectful of the female he is pursuing. Of course that is conducive to the time but it also says something about the validity of the message of the poem.
In synopsis the flea, blood and death of the flea are all used as metaphors for sex; the exchange of life force a very important thing within the act of sex represented as something as insignificant as a flea and then orgasm, which can feel important and significant for a period of time but is really only as important as the death of a flea. The speaker in this poem hopes to convince his lady to sleep with him by trivializing sex and comparing it to something as insignificant as a flea. Meanwhile I say lady, screw the speaker and the flea you would get more of a commitment from a machine than a guy as afraid of human contact as this one.