Study Guide

The Flea Guilt and Blame

By John Donne

Guilt and Blame

And this, alas! is more than we would do. (line 9)

The speaker tries to make the woman feel guilty by expressing feelings of jealousy toward the flea. He conveniently forgets that insects and men play by different rules when it comes to women.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare, (line 10)

When the woman is about to crush the flea, the speaker appeals to her sense of power over it and, in a sense, over him. He's like, "You have the power to spare all of our lives." The subtext is, "If you kill all of us, you'll be a terrible, terrible person."

Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three. (lines 16-18)

Now the speaker goes straight for the gut, with a guilt-trip that would make our Irish grandmother proud. He's like, "OK, maybe you think killing me wouldn't be such a big deal, but...you'd also be killing yourself and desecrating the sacrament of marriage." He brings religion into the mix, as these are all mortal sins in Christianity. The fate of the woman's everlasting soul depends on her not killing the flea!

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence? (lines 19-20)

Despite the huge stakes the speaker laid out in the second stanza, the woman kills the flea anyway. He calls her "cruel" and says her action was "sudden" and therefore not well considered. She now has the "blood of innocence" on her hands, as if she had participated in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ himself! These lines mark the high point of the guilt-trip.

Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee? (lines 21-22)

Shifting gears a bit, the speaker backs away from the whole, "You're a villainous monster" routine. Instead, he asks the woman to feel pity for the poor dead flea. He's probably hoping these feelings of pity will extend to him, too. He's like, "What did the flea ever do to you?" To which, in perfect hindsight, we might reply, "How about being a carrier for the Black Plague, one of the deadliest diseases in human history!"

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...