The Flea by John Donne: Summary and Analysis

The Flea, composed by a great metaphysical poet John Donne, was first published posthumously in 1633. The title, the flea is a conceit, an extended metaphor in this poem. The flea has sucked little blood from the speaker and the lady and the mingling of their blood in the body of the flea is regarded as their unification and marriage by the speaker.

John Donne (1572-1631)

This particular notion of using a metaphor in an unusual circumstance serves as an extended metaphor in the poem. The speaker’s way of persuasion to the lady to make love is praiseworthy.

The Flea provides a foundation for the love poetry in metaphysical poetry in the sixteenth century. The speaker in the poem seems a bit jealous of the flea for its freedom of touch on his beloved’s body and its death by her hand in the sense of contact. In the opening of the poem, the speaker tries to convince his beloved to make love by stating that they have already been one in the body of a flea. The particular flea has bitten the speaker first and the lady latter, in that sense their blood is mixed in the body of the flea. Their mingling in the flea cannot be called sin, so neither their love making.

The body of the flea is regarded as the temple of love in the second stanza. When the lady tries to kill the flea, the speaker stops her and tells her not kill that small being as it contains three lives: his life, her life and the flea’s own life. If she murders it, she will be guilty of three murders. Moreover, the flea has been a sacred temple of love for it has been the holy place of the speaker’s and the lady’s wedding place and wedding bed. He goes on speaking that despite their parents disliking of mingling of them, they are already united in the living walls of the flea. So, the speaker concludes the killing of the flea would be a violation of their love.

In the third stanza, the lady has killed the flea and the speaker being sad, asks the lady what was the fault of the flea except that it sucked their pinch of blood. He then asserts that she would lose no honor if she sleeps with him than she loses when she killed the flea.

The poem has three stanzas having nine lines in each stanza and following aabbccddd rhyming patterns.  The speaker’s power of inducement is felt in the first stanza where he asserts that the little mingling of their blood in the living walls of flea is not considered as an act of sin. So, the greater mingling of their body (sexual intercourse) is also as holy as the flea. In the second stanza, he tries to spare the flea’s life arguing that it is their marriage temple and a wedding bed. Killing of flea would be an act of crime of killing three lives; the speaker’s, the lady’s and the flea’s. But, when she does not listen to him and kills the flea in the third stanza, he raises a question what was the sin of that little life. After killing the flea the lady replies that by killing the flea no one of them have become weaker and nothing has been lost. So, there is no reason to have sex between them. Then the speaker wittingly says that as she has no fear of flea and no loss of honor after killing flea, then there would not be any loss of dignity if they make love. Their union would do no harm in her reputation.

According to some feminist, the prime decision on making love depends solely on the lady. The speaker being a man cannot force her to have physical intimacy. He tries hard to convince her, but she does not leave her stand and argues back to him. Though he warns not to kill the flea, she kills and exercises her power of action.

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Sharma, K.N. "The Flea by John Donne: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 27 Feb. 2018,