Literature Review On Physical Love And It’s Natural Nature By Using A Flea As An Erotic Image In The John Donne’s Poem The Flea

September 2, 2022 by Essay Writer

The poem “The Flea” written by John Donne and published in 1633, Donne describes physical love and it’s true natural nature. The six articles that I choose to use as research explain mainly how Donne’s poem “The Flea” is the most “notorious seduction poem of the English Renaissance” (Hyman 157) and how other poems of Donne have many features in common with “The Flea” poem. In the article “Explicating Donne: ‘The Apparition’ and ‘The Flea.’” by Laurence Perrine, Perrine explains how both poems “The Apparition” and “The Flea” are “dramatic monologues in which a male speaker attempts to seduce a female virgin” (Perrine 1). The articles also analyze Donne’s poem “The Flea” and explain what each stanza of the poem meant and described how the poem was poorly misread by many scholars and critics.

In the article “Explicating Donne: ‘The Apparition’ and ‘The Flea.’” by Laurence Perrine, Perrine compares how both of the poems “The Flea” and “The Apparition” written by John Donne are “dramatic monologues”(Perrine 1) and both present the speaker trying to use seduction as a way of “ winning a woman’s favors”(Perrine 7). Perrine mentions how both poems have been poorly misread by an amaze number of scholars and critics. Perrine therefore explains how he examines both poems side by side to modify their true meaning. The poem “The Apparition” Perrine depicts how scholars have misread it “as an expression of hate and revulsion in which the motive of the speaker, a rejected lover, is revenged”(Perrine 2). Perrine starts by describing the tone of the poem “The Apparition” being “dark and menacing”(Perrine 7). Then Perrine describes the speaker in “The Apparition” as trying to attain his goal by threats. Then for the poem “The Flea” Perrine describes the tone as being “light and playful” (Perrine 7) and the speaker being obviously specious reasoning. Perrine explains how the speaker in “The Apparition” tries “to win his lady’s favors by maximizing her fears of what will happen to her if she refuses”(Perrine 8). Then in “The Flea” Perrine describes the speaker trying to “win them by minimizing his lady’s fears of what will happen if she consents” (Perrine 8).

In the second article “John Donne’s ‘Songs and Sonnets’: The Poetic Value of Argument.” by R.T. Jones, Jones starts by describing how John Donne, among other famous poets of the seventeenth century, has been the most strikingly poet rediscovered in the twentieth century. Jones implies what kind of meaning and truth we can find in “The Flea” poem, Jones analyzes Donne’s poem “The Flea” and explains what the poem is trying to portray to the reader. Jones implies how the reader has to treat it to be able to understand the main theme of the poem. Jones describes the opening line of the poem “The Flea” as “ parodies a preacher’s exemplum , and the argu- ment that follows could not hope to convince the most moronic of ladies”(Jones 41). Then the opening of the second stanza Jones describes as indicating that the women in the poem “she is about to express her comment on the argument by killing the flea” (Jones 41).

Then in the third article “Seeing the Invisible under the Microscope: Natural Philosophy and John Donne’s Flea.” by Wendy Beth Hyman, Hyman begins by mentioning that John Donne’s poem “The Flea” is one of the “most notorious seduction poems of the English Renaissance” (Hyman 157). Hyman explains how the poem “The Flea” exhibits Donne’s skill for turning the least likely images into elaborate metaphysical symbols of love and romance. For example Hyman means how Donne uses a flea to compare his character’s intimacy with the flea. Hyman describes how Donne’s poem “envisions insect life as a formal and philosophical challenge for poetry” (Hyman 157). Hyman is indicating how Donne uses the image of a flea that has just bitten the speaker and his beloved to describe a conflict over whether the two will have sexual intercourse.

In the fourth article “Donne’s The Flea.” The Explicator by Wisam Mansour, Mansour argues how John Donne’s poem “The Flea” was a success and how Donne identifies himself with the female body rather than asserting a superior sense of masculinity. Mansour explains how in the first stanza it presents a potent illustration of Donne’s sporting with gender:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,

How little that which thou deniest me is;

Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,

And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;

Thou know’st that this cannot be said

A sin, or shame, or 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.

(Mansor 7, lines 1-9)

Mansour explains how in this stanza Donne fundamentally probes the dominant, “male” sexuality that the text appears to be pushing the woman toward. Mansour also explains how Donne “subconsciously associates himself both with the female body and with a kind of hermaphroditic erogenous pleasure, revealing his deep sense of identity and gender”(Mansour 8).

In this article “Milton’s and Donne’s Stargazing Lovers, Sex, and the New Astronomy.” by Catherine Gimelli Martin, Martin compares John Donne’s and John Milton shockingly concurrent thoughts on love, sex, and the new astronomy. Martin describes how Donne treats the subject of love in his poem “The Flea” by describing how he uses a flea as an image to symbolize the aspect of romance. For example describing the conflict between the characters in the poem “The Flea” over whether they should have sexual intercorse or not since the flea has bitten them both and mingled their blood together.

In this last article “‘La Puce De Madame Desroches’ and John Donne’s ‘The Flea.’” by David B. Wilson, Wilson criticizes how well the poem “The Flea” by John Donne was translated into French and how anyone who has read it in the French translation will have been amazed by how well the concept is introduced in the first stanza of the poem in the French translation. Wilson explains how Donne’s poem uses the flea’s murder as a analogy for the oldest exchange which is having sex. Wilson depicts how Donne not only questions the virginity of his beloved but also the importance of sexual intercorse. Wilson agrees how much of a success the poem “The Flea” in a French context was noticed by the public a lot and also how the poem is at the same time both more witty and less witty than critics have hitherto allowed” (Wilson 300).

In conclusion all of these six articles mainly discuss how John Donne describes physical love and it’s natural nature by using a flea as an erotic image to elaborate metaphysical symbols such as love and romance. And state how the poem “The Flea” was one of the famous poems of Donne and the most “notorious seduction poem of the English Renaissance” (Hyman 157). Most of the scholars also explain in the articles how so many of them misread or misunderstood the true meaning of the poem “The Flea”, but they examine the poem and study it to modify and try to understand the true meaning or the message the poem was trying to portray to the audience.


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