The Flea by John Donne

Updated: Dec 14, 2019


How does a 17th century poet ask a woman for sex? Join in for episode 1 of Metaphysical Mondays where we explore Donne's most famous poem, The Flea, and we see him do just that. In this new series I'll be exploring a poetic school that preceeded the Romantic Movement: The Metaphysical school.

This refers to what Samuel Johnson called a "race of writers that may be terrmed the metaphysical poets," they were writers who were "rather as beholders than partakers of human nature; as beings looking upon good and evil, impassive and at leisure, asEpicurean deities making remarks on the actions of men and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion."

Now a broader understand of this school is actually that it "expresses emotion within an intellectual context."

It is impossible to understand the world we live in without a grasp on the words, thoughts and actions of other societies and other eras. This allows us to transcend our own era and compare the way that we live, think, talk and act with the ways of others.

Moreover, these stories and poems add to our lives by giving us more examples of how we, today, can indeed choose to live our own lives.

In this poem, for instance, we will hear a man ask for sex. But it won't be the way that you or I may think about seducing a woman. But maybe it should be? Maybe making fun and even outrageous metaphors is not the worst way to enjoy the process of making love.

You decide.



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.

This 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, hast 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 triumph’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 yield’st to me,

Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.