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Wit and Religious Imagery in “The Flea”
In his funny little poem “The Flea,” John Donne merges wit with religious imagery in an attempt to convince a woman to sleep with him. In the first stanza Donne cleverly uses the humorous image of an insignificant flea that has just sucked the blood of both Donne and his intended lover as he tries to convince his beloved that the mingling of bodily fluids during intercourse would be just as innocent as their blood mingling inside the body of the flea. The first and second stanzas take on quite a whimsical tone as Donne elucidates to his beloved how innocuous premarital sex would be compared to what the flea has done. The way Donne implicitly hints at the erotic without explicitly stating anything, yet leaving no doubt in the reader’s mind as to what he means, is as much a source of the poem’s humor as is the silly image of the flea. In the second stanza Donne supports his argument and attempts to stop his beloved from killing the flea by calling the flea “Our marriage bed and temple” (line 13). By spilling the blood of the flea, she would also be spilling the blood of Donne and herself, thereby practically committing murder: “Three lives in one flea spare” (line 10). This line equates the flea with a significant sacred ideal, the holy trinity. It would not only be murder though, Donne adds “And sacrilege, three sins in killing three”(line 18), which makes the flea all the more significant by again calling to mind the holy trinity. However, the unfortunate flea meets his match between stanzas two and three as Donne’s beloved puts an end to his nonsense and kills the symbol of their love. Donne chastises her by saying she has “Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence” (line 20), which brings up images of Christ’s crucifixion. Donne’s solution is to change tactics and assert to his beloved that since killing the flea was so easy and harmless, yielding to hi...
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