Sexual Meaning in The Flea by John Donne (Essay Example)


“The Flea” by John Donne uses a flea bite to insinuate the poet and his lover should have sex, to say that two people being bitten by the same flea are already having sex, and to marry them. “The Flea” appears to be a rather simple story at first glance about two different people being bitten by the same flea. The author takes the flea bite and turns it into a persuasive campaign. He attempts to make the bites seem significant to them in the moment and to their beliefs in the societal context of the that time period. 

The author first takes the fact that they were bitten by the same flea and starts to exploit this seemingly random act. He starts by insinuating from the flea bite that they should both have sex. The second line of the poem reads, “How little that which thou deniest me is,” (Donne). Right from the start he starts with his argument. He means that the acts he is seeking are not a big deal and are a rather small act. John Donne then went on to write, “Thou know’st that this cannot be said; A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,” (Donne). The poet starts to list some of the reasons that the girl may not want to have sex in the first place. He cites religion, shame, and the loss of “maidenhead” (virginity) as reasons she should not be afraid to have sex. He was implying that these were nonfactors. While in reality all three of these things are real reasons in that time to not partake in sex in this instance. In this age the idea of not properly following religion would scare most people. Public shame was also a much larger factor in the sense you truly cared what people thought of you and your family around your town.

Not only was the poet putting effort into making the sex not a significant event to be worried about, but he was also going on to say the mere fact that the flea had already bitten them both equated to them already having sex. John Donne starts this argument with, “it sucked me first, and now sucks thee, and in this flea our two bloods mingled be,” (Donne). His logic was that since their blood had already been put together in the flea sex had already taken place. He stayed with the blood in the flea argument when he said, “And pampered swells with one blood made of two, And this, alas, is more than we would do,” (Donne). He went deeper into the blood mixing and extended this to mean that their blood mixing was more than they would do during sex. He was implying that since their blood had already happened, they might as well have sex. While the logic today does not translate quite the same, back in these times, playing to the religious undertones was a fitting argument for him to have sex with the girl. While taking a logical look into this it is very clear that getting bitten by a flea together is not the same as having sex with a person. This is true in the tangible sense as well as the religious meaning. 

John Donne goes on to have a final argument for having sex. Instead of trying to make the flea bite seem more significant then it truly was, he went a different route. He also wrote, “Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare, Where we almost, nay more than married are,” (Donne). This was to say that sine they had mixed blood and were already (practically) married. In this quote there is also a reference to the holy union. The “three lives” is a reference to The Father, Son, and The Holy Spirit. This religious undertone again plays to the point that if they were to have sex it would be fine. Implying that just like The Father, Son, and The Holy Spirit, they too were a group of three that were now were meant to be together. Seeking the angle of religious righteousness stayed on par with the rest of the almost cheap attempts to coerce the women into sex. If he had not been direct enough thus far, the next lines were, “This flea is you and I, and this our marriage temple is,” (Donne). In this part he was as direct as he could be. He was saying how they were sitting there together in their marriage bed. With them being joined together in the flea on their marriage bed he implies they are married right there and then. Since by his own logic they had had this “ceremony” they could proceed further his desire and have the sex he has been desperately searching for. 

It was rather impressive to observe the idea of being bitten by a flea lead to an array of attempts at having sex. The poem did its best to use a flea bite to insinuate the poet and his lover should have sex, that two people being bitten by the same flea are already having sex, and to marry them. It is not often a story relates two things like these in such a way. The use of religion to connect a flea and a rather eager man, captured my attention from the start. John Donne’s focus on the religious aspect shows the age of the poem, yet it is still a relatable story. Seeing a man relate an insect to sex was not something I had witnessed before, nor am I sure I will witness it again.

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