The Flea is a poem that is all about one man trying to get a woman to have sex with him. The woman is probably a virgin. In his attempt to persuade his would be lover the man focuses on a flea, a parasite that has sucked blood from them both.
He uses a logical argument (a conceit) to try and win her over. With their blood mingled now in the flea, the act being totally innocent, better not to kill it because that would be sacrilege.
When the woman does kill the flea, with her nail, he appears to admit that she’s won the game. But, in the last three lines he tries to turn the flea’s death to his advantage by claiming it is of no real consequence, just as is losing one’s virginity.
The Flea, a provocative and intimate drama, with psychological and theological elements, raises serious sexual and moral questions but does so in a darkly playful manner.
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.