The poems “The Apparition” and “The Flea”

Both of the poems “The Apparition” and “The Flea” are both about trying to get women into bed, so they can have sex. However, in “The Flea” John Donne uses a very flirty tone, while in “The Apparition” John Donne uses a revengeful tone. John Donne uses these two different approaches in the two poems “The Flea” and “The Apparition” to show how differently a tone, point of view, and poetic devices can affect how the reader views a work or the person in the work.

There are many similarities throughout both of the poems. In both of the poems there are many examples of imagery, but in both poems he describes the image of a bed. For example, in “The Flea” when Donne says:

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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.

Through this example one can see how Donne describes the figurative bed and that because they have shared a bed in “The Flea” that why shouldn’t they be in the same bed in real life. Donne describes the bed in a way that because they are not married is not a reason for them not to get together. One can also see how Donne is trying to be charming with the girl he is talking to in the poem. Then in the apparition Donne describes a bed when he says, “Bath’d in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie”. This line describes how the woman will be lying in bed after having a nightmare about how she could have slept with Donne, so this statement is really a kind of threat to the woman. The threat is that if she does not sleep with him that she will forever be attacked by things in her bed.

Through the poems, Donne is trying to chase something that seems really important to him through his use of words on woman in both of the poems, however, “It is unclear whether this was a concrete offer or just a general invitation” (Bernstein). No one in the world now will ever be able to tell whether or not Donne actually said something like what is in these poems to a real woman. Then in both of the poems Donne tries to use multiple different ways to persuade a woman to sleep with him by putting all of his effort behind his words. There really is no other way to do anything without putting all of your effort into something. One could spend one’s entire life doing something halfheartedly and get nowhere. Then that same person could put all of one’s effort into something and get a lot of results, just like Donne might at the end of the night. Both of these poems are very similar, but at the same time are very different.

There are many differences in these two poems like the tone. In “The Apparition” the tone is very revengeful, as if the woman harmed in a real deep way that only a woman could. One can see this when Donne says, “When by thy scorn, O Murd’ress, I am dead/ And that thou think’st thee free”. Donne uses very dark and twisted words to make the woman feel bad about what she is doing to him. Donne takes the idea of coming back to haunt someone after one is dead to a whole other level. “The Apparition” makes Donne seem like a diverted and twisted maniac obsessed with sex. However on the other hand, in “The Flea” Donne comes across with a flirty and almost innocent tone. One can see this when Donne says, “Yet this enjoys before it woo,/ And pampered swells with one blood made of two,/ And this, alas, is more than we would do”. Donne uses very small and carefree words to try to come across to the woman easier. Donne has the idea here that because there blood has already mingled, then why should they not mingle in an intertwined fashion in the bed. “The Flea” makes Donne come across as not worrying if he gets this girl or not because he can get any girl he wants. All he has to do is tell this to any girl and he thinks that he can get them.

Another example of how the two poems are different is that they may both talk death, however they don’t mean the same thing. For example in “The Flea” when Donne says, “Let not to that, self-murder added be,/ And sacrilege, three sins in killing three” , which shows how Donne wanted to make the girl feel as if having sex with him was not as bad of a sin as killing him. Killing him for what he is saying to her would be so bad that she could not recover from this sin, so why not pick the lesser of the evils. The lesser of the evils being that she has sex with him. Then in “The Apparition” when Donne says, “When by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead/ And that thou think’st thee, which shows that Donne was saying that this other woman with all of her hatred for him will eventually kill him. No matter what she does her hatred will kill him eventually if she continues what she is doing, which is like an insult to her that she could not kill him normally. Therefore, she will eventually revert back to pure hatred for Donne.

Throughout both of the poems Donne uses the same point of view, which is 1st person. However, throughout the poems he does switch into different tenses. Like in “The Flea” Donne does switch from present tense while he is talking to the girl to past tense when he is talking about how their blood has already mingled in the past through the figurative flea. This makes Donne come across as even more carefree than before because of how people as a whole can do nothing to change the past. Being very carefree can be very helpful when someone is trying to make first impressions on someone because it shows that a person is very open to new ideas and things. Then in the “The Apparition” Donne switches from present tense while he is talking to the girl to future tense when is talking about how he will be haunting her for the rest of his life after death. This makes Donne come off even more dark and twisted because of he is planning their future, just so he can get back at her for being so mean to him. Being very controlling is not a very good thing to come across as, especially the first time a person meets someone. The point of view and the tense of the poem can greatly affect how the reader or the person listening understands and how they feel after they read or listen to the two poems. All the audience has to do is understand what the tense in the two poems implies.

In conclusion these two poems “The Flea” and “The Apparition” are both very similar and very different in many different ways. “The Flea” is different from “The Apparition” in that the tone is very different in each of the poems, “The Flea’s” being flirty and “The Apparition’s” being revengeful. Then the two poems are similar in the fact that the two poems use a lot of imagery and even use very descriptive imagery of bed, to imply sex with the woman. All of these things come together to show that although these two poems are very similar and different the two poems have two very different conclusions and how they come across to the reader or the audience.

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The poems “The Apparition” and “The Flea”. (2022, Jul 22). Retrieved from