Essay: “The Flea” by John Donne

The Flea by John Donne
There is my essay on John Donne’s “The Flea”.
The essay question was: If the flea could respond to the speaker, what would it say? Would it be on the speaker’s side? Would it brag about its conquest? Would it defend the lady’s honor? As an exercise, try writing “The Flea’s Side of the Story.”


“The Flea” by John Donne: The Flea’s Side of the Story

   “The Flea” is a poem written by John Donne in which the speaker attempts to convince a woman that premarital sexual affairs are acceptable since a flea already “sinned” for them. According to the speaker, the flea that bit him and his beloved already ingested their blood and “in this flea [their] bloods mingled be” (4), therefore, the sinful act already took place so, technically, it is perfectly tolerable for the woman to give him what she has denied him thus far. Additionally, the speaker implies that they are already “married” within the flea, so killing it would be a sin and sacrilege. However, the speaker’s lady friend doesn’t fall for any of his arguments and kills the flea, thus, telling this “smooth-talker” to back off with his untimely pursuits. Unfortunately for the flea, the poem didn’t have a happy ending and it didn’t have a chance to comment on its last moments, but if it did it would probably make three different statements.

Initially, I imagine, the flea would be rather appalled by the speaker’s blatant use of the flea’s presence. The tiny little creature was going about its day, trying to eat in peace, when the speaker decided to bring his beloved’s attention to the miniature biter. Not only was the flea’s location discovered, it was also accused of sin and overfeeding. “How dare he?!” was probably the first response projected by the flea, especially after realizing that the speaker’s only goal is to seduce his woman. In fact, the speaker equates the blood mixed within the flea’s stomach to the fusion of the liquids exchanged during sex between partners. This notion alone is probably enough to make the flea gag in disgust over the delicious meal it thought it was having just seconds ago.  Finally, the flea rolls its molecule-sized eyes getting ready to relocate to a place more private when the speaker continues his pursuit with “and this, alas, is more than we would do” (9), implying that sex is much less invasive than the flea’s violation of their bodily fluids. This final statement sets the woman over the edge and she swings at the unfortunate flea with anger, but she is stopped by the speaker.

   At this point the flea is frozen in place with horror and shock, especially after the speaker jumps to its defense with “Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare” (10). The flea nods in agreement, now thankful to the speaker for his intervention and protection. The flea’s confidence returns once the speak compares it to himself “This flea is you and I” (12), because at this instant the little creature will agree to anything said as long as its life is spared, even though, it feels a little offended being compared to this joker who is using a defenseless bug for its selfish purposes. Relieved, the flea once again prepares to hop to safety, but the speaker goes too far in his speech, reminding the woman of her and her parent’s disapproval of this upcoming marriage which turns out to be the last straw that broke the flea’s back. The maiden swiftly becomes “cruel and sudden” (19) and squashed the flea, staining her “nail in blood of the innocence” (20).

   Now that the flea is squashed it can’t hear the speaker shame his lady of murder: “Wherein could this flea guilty be, / Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?” (21-22). Actually, the flea’s only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time – it would stand a much higher chance of survival if the speaker didn’t bring that much attention to it and if he didn’t angry his damsel with his arguments. Therefore, the flea’s initial assessment of the speaker was correct – he used the flea in its last moments of life and even in death.

    Despite the tragic outcome for the tiny flea, the speaker has to be given credit for his eloquence and a well-constructed case, even when his initial argument failed he was able to turn everything around and to play it to his advantage. At first the pre-marital sex was a tiny sized issue just like the flea, then the flea’s dinner was paralleled to the sanctity of marriage and finally when none of it rang true for the murderous woman the speaker reminds her how truly insignificant this homicide is, just like the flea itself. In either case, the flea died in vain since the speaker wasn’t able to convince his conquest in the purity of his intentions despite his resourcefulness and persuasiveness.

Works Cited:

  1. The Flea. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton& Company Inc., 2012. 1373. Print.


Have you read the “The Flea” by John Donne? If you have, share your thoughts below Matrix


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