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Marvin Hugley Jr.
March 5, 2017
Marvin's View Of The Flea
"The Flea", a witty poem of seduction and conceit, taken from John Donne's "Songs and Sonnets" is the poem that I have chosen to compare to "Song", another poem of John Donne's where he is passionately pleading with his wife not to be disheartened about his departureabroad.
Both poems which belong to " Songs and Sonnets", written around the time of the 16th century, show that their title suggests they are both short poems, following the traditional form of a sonnet, consisting of fourteen lines. However, they are not "songs" in the conventional sense we think of and none of them are written as a sonnet. In fact, Donne's poems were intended for circulation around his local pub, "Lincoln's Inn", where he could impress his male friends with hisbawdy poetic nature.
"The Flea", emphatically rejects the Petrarchan tradition of love poetry, where the woman is a goddess, an object of desire worth worshipping by a man. Instead, Donne wrote poems that saw the earthy reality of sexual relations between a man and woman. The poem, whose historical convention probably started with Ovid, shows that it was common in Elizabethan times to envy a flea for its access to the female body. Donne throughout the poem makes references to the flea, presenting a conceit produced of wit, integrity and persuasion.
The title, which presents the conceit, is in fact the structure of the poem, the entire poem depends on this conceit. At first, this is a puzzling image to the reader, it seems bizarre and inappropriate. However, as the poem continues, Donne's argument does also, and we seehow reality is conveyed by the vivid imagery of the flea. Donne uses a three-part syllogism in this poem which he delivers in a matter-of-fact- tone: "It sucked me first, and now sucks thee / And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be" Here Donne shows manipulation towards the woman. He reveals an attitude that is persuasive, but manipulative by saying that since they are one in the flea, they should make love anyway, seeing as they are already joined. I question whether this is love, or lust?
Donne presses on with his argument, he develops a series of persuasions to attempt his mistress into bed with him: "How little that thou deny'st me is." Here, Donne is again being manipulative; he is scornful and is appealing to her to see how desperate he is for her to agree. Byusing a triple structure, he is appealing to her knowledge and is showing emphasis: "Thou know'st that this cannot be said / A sinne, nor shame, nor loss of maiden head" Here Donne has asked his mistress not to kill the flea, cleverly revealing that it would be suicide since both her and Donne are joined as one in this flea. He uses a hyperbole, the deliberate exaggeration of saying this would be a murder, thus creates effect. He uses emotional blackmail and accusatory towards his mistress.
However, the argument is turned around, when she retorts that neither of them areworse off in this act, to which he proceeds a mock concession, pretending to give into her point. The final few lines of the final stanza show a reversal. Donne agrees with his mistress' argument, he can see how she would be right when she claims that killing a flea is so unimportant. However, there is a clever finish to Donne's argument, and one that reveals a lot about his attitude to love andwomen. He shows impudence and confidence when he says that no harm has been done, equally there would there be no harm done if they were to make love. This shows how he thinks the act of love is so little, he is comparing it to the killing of a flea, a creature so small.
Donne reveals his attitude to women throughout this whole poem. Is this a poem of love, seduction or lust? It is indeed genuinely persuasive and a poem that certainly carries an intellectual argument throughout, but is the poem a compliment to the women, or a means of satisfying the male desire resulting in it being highly offensive to feminists. It
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