The Holy Trinity: Thoughts on “The Flea” by John Donne

See poem, here.

The first time that I read this poem by John Donne, I almost did not understand one word of what was said. Probably because I read it lightly, thinking it easier to understand and interpret that it really was. After a couple more re-readings and some inquiries to the dictionary, I started grasping ideas and concepts, but not more than random images around the poem: “two bloods mingled bee”, “pamper’d”, “one blood made of two”, “three lives in one flea”, “marriage bed”, “suck’d”, “three sinnes in killing thee”.

But after inspecting these images cautiously, I saw that there could be something more than just an animal from the Siphonaptera order eating the blood of two people. There was something sexual in the poem; something forbidden; a secret desire or even a sin. I concentrated on the first three stanzas, resolute to find out what could Donne be trying to explain behind such strange a concept as “the flea” for a seventeenth century poem.

I saw that the poetical voice had some intentions with the maiden to whom he talks; intentions which the maiden did not want to satisfy. He wanted that woman, he wanted to sleep with her and have a child, but she and/or her parents did not allow it. So, for the poetical voice, the flea that had just sucked his and her blood, was, conceptually, the dream come true for this man; it was his and her blood together in one only being; it was a representation of the child they were never to have.

It seems obvious that him and his beloved are in two different stages of the relationship (if one may call it that), because while he even sees “their child” in the body of an insignificant flea, she just sees a disgusting animal that just sucked her blood making her desire to kill it. And he suffers; he feels that the death of that irrelevant insect will not only kill the insect, but also the blood that both of them have left inside of it and the representation of the child they will never have. But she kills it anyway. She aborts the child they had conceived. She feels proud of having overpowered the small flea that had bit her. And the poetical voice suffers, she had taken from him the little joy that he had, the small granted desire of having his blood mixed with hers inside another being. He felt that with the death of that flea, she had killed the three of them.

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