The Flea Poem By John Donne Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English


“The Flea” was written by eminent poet Jonne Donne. This is a metaphysical poem that has sexual undertones to it. Written in a humourous way, it traces the poet’s persona attempting to woo his beloved to engage in a sexual relationship with him before marriage. 

About the Poet:

John Donne (1572-1631) was a prominent English poet and scholar. A cleric in the Church of England, he was considered the greatest of the metaphysical poets at that time. Famous works of his include ‘The Flea’, ‘Holy Sonnets’, and ‘The Sun Rising’.

Stanza 1:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,   
How little that which thou deniest me is;   
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
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,
	Yet this enjoys before it woo,
	And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
	And this, alas, is more than we would do.

The poem begins with the persona directly addressing his beloved. He states that what she denies him is as trivial as a flea– referring to her denying to make love with him. He further states that because the flea had bitten both her and himself, their blood was now “mingled” within it.

He humorously compares this with their act of having intercourse, declaring that it is not “A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhood”. He envies the fact that the flea, unlike himself, is allowed to “enjoy” her without courting or “woo”ing her first, lamenting that that very act was something they themselves couldn’t do. 

Stanza 2:

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, w'are met,   
And cloistered 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.

Here, he wants her to “spare” the flea for killing it would imply killing three lives– the flea’s, his’ and hers’. He forbids her because, in the flea, they are not just “almost” but “more than married”, owing to the mingled blood of theirs it has within it. He goes as far as to call the flea their “marriage bed” and “marriage temple”.

For here, they were “cloistered” or cocooned within its dark walls with no regard for their parents’ “grudge” or disapproval. He declares that even though she might want to murder him, she should not add “self-murder” and “sacrilege” to her list of sins by killing the flea. 

Stanza 3:

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?   
Wherein 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 thy self, nor me the weaker now;
	’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:
	Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
	Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

In this final stanza, it is revealed that his beloved did not heed the persona’s words and had killed the flea. He calls her “cruel” for having “purpled” or tainted her hands with the flea’s “blood of innocence”. He argues for the flea’s cause, demanding what other crime could the flea be “guilty” of other than sucking a drop of blood from her to have received such a brutal punishment.

He mocks her for being triumphant for killing the flea and taking pride in the fact that neither she nor he were “weaker now”. He preaches that she should learn how false her fears are from this. He declares as a concluding note that she would lose as much honour as she lost upon killing this flea when she finally yielded herself to him. 


This a witty and ludicrous poem through which the persona brings out the taboo associated with premarital sex and the constraints associated with marriage, even as he tries to woo his lady love.