John Donne’s poem, The Flea, is a somewhat humorous, but heroic, attempt by the speaker of the poem to convince his beloved to “lay” with him. Donne’s ability to compare unlikely images (premarital sex and a flea) as symbols of love and romance exemplify metaphysical poetic mode (conceit).
The speaker in his poem is extremely interested in experiencing relations with his love; his love is not.
In a last ditch attempt to attain his goal, he contends that the flea that bit him- bit her too; therefore, they are already joined in the marriage bed through a blending of their blood, “Mark but this flea, and mark in this, How little that which thou deniest me is”.
His love eventually kills the flea, despite his protests. At this, he again turns the argument around, telling her that her killing of the flea (and the high minded ideals that come with the blending of their blood) did not hurt her honor; therefore, neither would it be harmed by sleeping with him.
The Flea, by John Donne
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.
Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.
The flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, has thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triuph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;
‘Tis true; then learn how false fears be:
Just so much honor, when thou yeild’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.
This poem was published posthumously in 1633.