Friday, October 7, 2011

The flea

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Conceits in The Flea


Conceits are defined as metaphors that are intricately woven into the verse, often used to express satire, puns or deeper meanings within the poem, and to display the poet¡¯s own cunning with words. The conceits of John Donne are said to ¡°leap continually in a restless orbit from the personal to the cosmic and back again¡±. In the clever poem The Flea the speaker seduces his lady by means of a flea. Though fleas were frequently used as a literary symbol about sex in the poetry at the Renaissance, Donne¡¯s wit and conceit are unparalleled.


The speaker at the beginning contemplates how to seduce his lady to give her virginity to him. He notices a flea that has obviously bitten them both. In the 17-th century the idea of sex was a ¡®mingling of the blood¡¯, he realizes that by mixing their bloods together within its body, the flea has done what she dare not do. Since the same effects can be realized within the flea¡¯s body, the act itself holds no tremendous significance. In any case, the act is not in the realm of reality, since the two people in the poem do not appear to be married, so sexual union can only be committed symbolically.


The argument then shifts to a different position where the flea suddenly becomes the entire world of the two people and the symbolic becomes reality. The speaker remarks that in the flea their bloods are mixed. Therefore during sex their souls are mingled and become one. As the marriage ceremony states ¡®man and woman shall be one flesh¡¯, they are thus married and the flea becomes their ¡° marriage temple¡±. During this part of the poem he speaks respectfully within the metaphor about sex, noting that it can be a spiritual and important thing. But this is eventually revealed to be only a ploy to prove that if she can treat sex so irreverently after he has made comments about how sacred it is, and then sex should not be dealt with so seriously. This reinforces his seduction argument and further defends himself when his lady kills the flea.


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After those lines, it would be natural for the lady to kill the flea out of disgust and honor. Since their bloods are mingled in the flea, the speaker argues that by killing the flea, she is committing murder and suicide. Not only that, but by breaking the holy bond of their marriage, she is committing sacrilege. He does not want the flea to be killed since it represents their ¡°blood bonding¡±. Anyway, the flea is finally killed and the lady squashes the symbolic world the speaker has constructed and they are brought back to reality. He is forced to change his tactics. He argues that killing the flea is easy, it does not harm her, so yielding to him will be as easy as painless.


By means of conceits of John Donne, flea is no more a disgusting parasite, but a literary image that will exist forever with this clever poem.








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