A Structural and Vocabulary Analysis of John Donne's The Flea

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A Structural and Vocabulary Analysis of John Donne's "The Flea"

In his poem "The Flea", John Donne shows his mastery in creating a work in which the form and the vocabulary have deliberately overlapping significance. The poem can be analyzed for the prominence of "threes" that form layers of multiple meanings within its three stanzas. In each of the three stanzas, key words can be examined to show (through the use of the OED) how Donne brilliantly chose them because of the various connotations they had to his audience. Finally, each of the three stanzas contains completely different moods that reflect the speaker’s emotions as the situation changes.

Upon knowing some of John Donne’s personal history, especially of his eventual high …show more content…

According to the OED, anything that caused surprise or alarm was referred to as a "flea." Another common usage for the word "flea" was as an adjective. Something was like a flea if it was "small and contemptible." The third relevance was as a popular phrase saying that there was "a flea in one’s ear." The OED definition of this saying is, "stinging or mortifying reproof, rebuff, or repulse, which sends one away discomfited." It is easy to see the evolution of the word "flea" to the verb, to flee.

The second stanza can be summed up by the word "jet." "Jet" also has several layers of meaning. Donne writes, "Though parents grudge, and you, we are met,/

And cloistered in these living walls of jet." The speaker is trying to convince a lady to have an illicit tryst with him, and this line shows that he is being sneaky and sly because they are somewhere dark and secretive. "Jet" literally means black and shiny, just like a flea, but according to the OED, it also represents an action. A "jet" is "a sudden, darting movement" and the speaker actually makes a "jet" towards the lady. It is in this stanza that he makes his most ambitious argument to the lady, and because this is obviously a sexual proposition, Donne’s clever word selection reveals why the third meaning of "jet" is especially relevant. "Jet" also has a phallic/male connotation as the root of the word "jetty" (an outcropping of rocks

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