Metaphysical wit and conceit are two of the most famous literary devices used in the seventeenth century by poets such as John Donne. Emerging out of the Petrarchan era, metaphysical poetry brought a whole new way of expression and imagery dealing with emotional, physical and spiritual issues of that time. In this essay I will critically analyse the poem, The Flea written by John Donne in which he makes light of his sexual intentions with his lover.
In the first stanza of the poem, Donne tries to convince his lover to have sexual intercourse with him. At first one would not realize that this is his intention because he uses a flea to describe sex which is a very far-fetched description of the act hence this poem being metaphysical. Using a conceit he belittles the impact of sex and the power it has over him even though it may be untrue. Knowing that she has thought about it before, he assures her that by withholding sex from him is something so small that it does not give her power in the relationship.
‘Mark but this flea, and mark in this
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,’
(Lines 1 – 3)
He encourages her to give in to his demand by making the act seem trivial, insignificant and nothing to be ashamed of. He implies that if their blood can be shared by a flea, why not they share it with each other. A sense of humour is evident as he ridicules the mindsets of sex before marriage being a sin.
‘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’
(Lines 5 - 7)
He then goes on to persuade her into considering it by describing the passion that they would encounter. He aims to arouse her sexually in hope that this conceit would have an effect on her. The first stanza is ended by him emphasizing that he is not pressurising her into doing more than what is expected and takes away her fear of falling pregnant.
‘Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas! Is more than we would do.’
(Lines 7 – 9)
Donne is very convincing in the second stanza where he speaks of the duration of their relationship being long enough to consider being married to each other. He appeals to her using conceit implying that they should consecrate their relationship as if they were married. By suggesting this he shows that he wants to commit to her and the seriousness of their relationship to him.
‘Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed,...