Text of the Poem

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.

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.

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.


  1. The speaker makes one final attempt to convince the young woman to have sex with him after she seems to accept, at least partially, his analogy. After killing the flea, she says that neither of them are “the weaker now,” which reflects the widespread 17th-century belief that the sexual act makes people weaker each time they engage in it. The speaker responds by arguing that, since her fears of the flea are ultimately unfounded, then her other fears must also be false.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. These lines use enjambment, or the flow of a thought or phrase that begins in one line and flows into subsequent lines. In this case, enjambment speeds up the rhythm of the final stanza to create anticipation about whether or not the speaker’s ingenious analogy is successful—though it seems that the young woman has firmly rejected the speaker by killing the flea.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The noun “jet” here refers to a semiprecious black stone. The speaker means that the inside of the flea is dark, which presumably enables the couple to better conceal themselves from discovery. Donne further emphasizes the sacred qualities of the flea’s body by comparing its appearance to that of a valuable stone.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The verb “to cloister” means to be sheltered from the outside world. A cloister is also a secluded walkway within a convent, church, or monastery. The religious connotations of Donne’s word choice indicates that the flea’s body is sacred; thus, the couple’s union within the flea’s “walls of jet” is not shameful.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The verb “to grudge” means to agree to something with reluctance. The speaker portrays the young woman’s protective parents as enemies from which they have hidden within the protective “living walls of jet” of the flea’s body. The reluctance of the young woman herself is shown through her inclusion in the “grudge,” but the speaker argues that their union has already happened within the flea.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Line thirteen features a diacope, or the repetition of a word or phrase with intervening words in between them. By repeating the word “marriage” in rapid succession, Donne lends musicality to the poem’s rhythm while also developing the central conceit between sexual love—which takes place in the “marriage bed”—and the flea, whose body provides the “marriage temple.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Donne employs a metaphysical conceit between a flea bite and the relationship between the speaker and his love interest. A conceit is a particularly far-fetched metaphor, which is a comparison made between two dissimilar things by implying or stating that they are the same. A metaphysical conceit establishes a clever analogy between the spiritual and the physical. Here, Donne compares the spiritual experience of sexual love to the physical experience of a flea bite—specifically, the mingling of blood within the body of the flea that bit the speaker and the young woman.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Donne personifies the flea by suggesting that it is capable of wooing, or seducing, the young woman. Personification involves attributing human-like qualities or behaviors to a nonhuman thing. After arguing that sex is as small a thing as a flea bite, the speaker complains that the flea is able to suck blood from the young woman without having to woo her first. He, on the other hand, must exert effort to seduce her.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The noun “maidenhead” is another term for a woman’s virginity, which was highly valued in 17th-century England. The poem’s speaker attempts to convince his romantic interest that losing her virginity to him will carry no more sin or shame than a harmless flea bite.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The first line of the poem contains a caesura. A caesura is a break within a line of verse, usually in the form of punctuation such as a comma (,), em dash (—), or ellipses (...). Here, interrupting the first line with a comma creates a natural pause that emphasizes the presence of the flea—which is a crucial component of the poem’s metaphysical conceit—while also establishing rhythm.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff