The Flea

by John Donne

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
Me it suck'd first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Confess it, this cannot be said
A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead,
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.

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, we're met,
And cloister'd 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?
In what 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 thyself nor me the weaker now;
'Tis true, then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.




Flea, The


Donne, John

Year of Publication:


Age Appropriate:







Alternates between lines in iambic tetrameter and lines in iambic pentameter




Nine line stanzas


Rhyming couplets AA,BB,CC,DD with a final line of DDD

Literary Period:

Puritan and Cavalier

Things to Discuss:

At first reading the poem seems a bit absurd - a conceit using the insect flea as a metaphor for sex. Finding the “religion” characteristic is a bit elusive. In one metaphor the three sections of an insect represent (head, thorax, abdomen) reference the trilogy (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Thus arguing that killing the flea is not an option. The same argument is applied when in the second verse. But the there is little doubt what the speaker is looking for when he writes that being bitten by a flea. A second metaphor is given in the second verse "sacrilege" to kill the flea. In the second verse the metaphor becomes the “marriage bed” is “marriage temple”. For a similar theme go to Andrew Marvell’s Conceit To His Coy Mistress.

About the Poem:

After the first publication it became the number one hit of poems read; easy to see why. All of Donne’s “love poetry” presents the topic as one “whether the woman be wife, mistress, whore, or Platonic ideal. The lover reacts to her responses to his advances by “urging” as in ‘come, madam, come...’; “pleading” as in ‘send me some token’...; “arguing” as in ‘enter into these armes’...; “bullying” as in ‘for godsake hold your tongue...’; and “weeping” as in ‘do not die’...

About the Poet:

Catch a “glint” in the eye of John Donne with the resulting though “he’s up to no good”. That was before he got religion and then wrote poetry reflecting the second second tendency of this group, writing pious verse. For this we look at A Hymn to God the Father and On the Sacrament. Described as “not dissolute but very neat; a great visitor of ladies, a great frequenter of plays, a great writer of conceited verses.”