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The Flea

The Flea


by John Donne

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 10-11

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.

  • As the woman raises her hand to kill the flea that is still sucking her flesh, the speaker begs her to hold off. In a desperate effort, he's like, "Wait...you can't kill the flea because...because...it represents our marriage!"
  • Whaaaa?
  • Our guess is that the speaker and the woman are not actually married. After all, she probably wouldn't be so worried about losing her honor if they were.
  • The flea, he says, contains three lives: his, hers, and the flea's.
  • Notice the ridiculously strained language in, "almost, yea, more than." He leaps from "not quite married" to transcending marriage altogether in the space of a few words. This is one slippery dude.
  • He even manages to turn the flea into a religious symbol, akin to the Holy Trinity, which also contains three spirits: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
  • "Stay" doesn't mean "remain"; it means "stop" or "hold back." You can almost see the speaker leaping in front of the flea, bodyguard-style, to save ("spare") its tiny life.

Lines 12-13

This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.

  • The speaker's absurd argument continues on, as if he has dug himself in too deep of a hole to try climbing out now.
  • The flea contains the essence of both people, and their blood meets like two newlyweds in their wedding bed.
  • The speaker pushes the religious envelope further by describing the flea's body as a "temple" in which their marriage is consecrated.

Lines 14-15

Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.

  • The order of the words in these lines is confusing, but the meaning is clear enough.
  • We get more back-story about their relationship: her parents do not approve of their union. Or maybe they just don't want this randy guy getting all friendly with their daughter.
  • And it's not just the parents who have bad feelings (a "grudge") about the union. The woman herself ("you") is not thrilled, either.
  • To which he replies: "Too late! Haha!"
  • Despite the reservations of everyone, it seems, except the speaker, the symbolic marriage is already taking place in the flea's jet-black body, which functions as a church, or "cloister."
  • Hey, it's still probably a classier venue than Vegas. Zing!

Lines 16-18

Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

  • She really is not too pleased with the speaker. Even he will admit that her experience and habits ("use") would naturally lead her to want to "kill" him!
  • But, he says, if she kills the flea she will be committing no fewer than three separate sins: murder, suicide ("self murder"), and sacrilege (or disrespecting the faith).
  • It's murder because his blood is in the flea. It's suicide because hers is, too. And it's sacrilege because, according to the logic of the speaker, they are married inside that-there bug.
  • He's got a steep mountain to climb. Normally in this situation we'd forget about the romance and settle for her giving up the death wish.
  • Of course, by "use" or habit, the speaker also simply means that we are accustomed to killing bugs when they bite us. Normally he'd have no problem with squashing the flea.

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