What is metaphysical poetry? (2023)

do Dr. Olivier Tearle

What is metaphysical poetry? And who were the metaphysical poets? In this post on metaphysical poetry, we'll take a closer look at the origins of the term and some examples of this strange and enigmatic school of early modern poetry.

Common features of metaphysical poetry, which we will examine in this brief introduction, include elaborate similes and metaphors, extended poetic imagination and paradoxes, colloquialisms, and an interest in exploring the interplay between the physical and spiritual worlds (and between the great and the great). . one). little).

Who were the metaphysical poets?

Poets associated with metaphysical poetry include John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan: Donne is often cited as the first metaphysical poet, and Donne's genius for original and intellectually complex poetry no doubt helped mark the trend of poetry that followed. he. (Donne began writing in the late 16th century, but the heyday of metaphysical poetry would come in the following century.)

Metaphysical poetry: features and characteristics.

(Video) Who were the 'Metaphysical Poets'? [Illustrated]

Key features of metaphysical poetry include: complicated mental and emotional experience; unusual and sometimes intentionally invented metaphors and similes; and the idea that the physical and spiritual universes are intertwined.

The term "metaphysical" derives from the latter: from metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that deals, among other things, with the relationship between spirit and matter, or between the physical world and human consciousness. (Interestingly, the word "metaphysics" derives from the Greek meaning "after physics," but is more specifically known as "after Aristotle's work on physics," probably because a student of philosophy is only required to delve into the complex and more abstract world of metaphysical physics after mastering Aristotle in physics.)

For this reason, because they are interested in the interplay between the world of the mind (or spirit or soul) and the physical world "out there", metaphysical poets often give concrete form to abstract ideas through its unusual images and comparisons. . For example, in his poem "the definition of love' writes Andrew Marvell (1621-78) about the fact that he and his lover are doomed never to be together, although they are destined to be together:

Like the lines, the obliques are loved.
Greet each other in every corner;
But ours are so parallel,
Although infinite, they can never be found.

So the love that unites us
But fate excludes so envious,
It is the connection of the spirit,
And the resistance of the stars.

This is an example of "star-crossed lovers" as inRomeo and Juliet? Marvell doesn't go into the reasons why he and his love can't consummate his love, but uses the clever imagery of two parallel lines to embody the idea that while he and his love are a perfect match , they can not. Be one. You see, the parallel lines fit together perfectly (they're parallel, so they follow the same course), but they can never meet exactly.GOODthey are parallel.

(Video) metaphysical poetry definition characteristics examples

Smart, right? Some critics have interpreted Marvell's poem as dealing with same-sex desire (the two possible lovers are parallel lines because they are of the same sex, but since homosexual love was outlawed in the 17th century, they can never "meet") .

But whether or not we interpret the image that way, the clever thing is that Marvell gave concrete form to an abstract dilemma. His Poem also captures metaphysical poetry's penchant for the paradoxical: he and his love are made for each other, but they will never come together precisely because they are too "parallel," too suitable.

metaphysical imagination

This kind of elaborate and expanded metaphor or analogy isaka imagination. A concept is an unusual or surprising analogy, metaphor, or simile—a kind of extended metaphor, if you will—that metaphysical poets often use in their poems.

then in yourgreat seductive poem "The flea", worn by John Donne (pictured right).imaginationof the flea that bites him first and then his beloved as justification for sleeping together: they are already intimately united by the flea that distributes their blood:

Mark only this flea, and mark it,
How little you deny me;
First I suck me and now I suck you
And in that flea our two bloods were mixed;
you know you can't tell
Neither sin, nor shame, nor loss of virginity,
But he enjoys before the courts,
and swells spoiled with a blood of two,
And that is, unfortunately, more than we would do.

(Video) Metaphysical Poetry

In other words, says Donne, the flea nursing the two does not embarrass them and is not considered a "sin"; So why should it be considered a sin to have sex? Donne uses theimaginationof the flea to mediate a lengthy fight that spans the entire poem, with the aim of taking the woman to bed with him.

Another feature of much metaphysical poetry, and something that distinguishes it from many other verses of the day, is its colloquialism. Not all metaphysical poets used more informal or colloquial language in their works, but something like John Donnes"the canonization' shows how colloquial language was well used by some metaphysical poets:

For God's sake shut up and let me love
Or blame my paralysis or my gout,
Curse my five gray hairs, or my ruined fortunes,
Improve your condition with wealth, improve your spirit with art,
Take a class, sit down
Consider your honor or your grace,
Or the king's royal, or his face in relief
I respect; what you want, approve,
then you will make me love

While it may not strike us as particularly loquacious now (you're unlikely to find metrical loquacity as "stamped" in a contemporary poem, let alone hear someone talking like that on the subway), here's Donne's speech, as it they demonstrate phrases like "For God's sake" and "what do you want" - it's boldly realistic for a poem written four hundred years ago.

This direct and practical language is somewhat at odds with the use of elaborate and complex concepts in metaphysical poetry, but it certainly makes both even more surprising and powerful.

The term "metaphysical poets" was coined by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) in his critical biography of the seventeenth-century poet Abraham Cowley.Johnson's Lives of Poets(1779-81). Before Johnson, John Dryden (1692) had written about the "metaphysics" of Donne's poetry, and before Dryden, William Drummond of Hawthornden had used the term in a letter of about 1630 in reference to a group of poets.

(Video) What is Metaphysical Poetry? | English Literature Lessons

Samuel Johnson used the term disparagingly: he disliked the "concepts" used by metaphysical poets, and complained that their poetry "bears better the scrutiny of the finger than the ear". Johnson went on to write:

The most heterogeneous ideas are united by force; Nature and art are searched for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; his knowledge instructs and his subtlety surprises; but the reader generally thinks that his improvement has been expensive, and though he sometimes admires her, he is seldom pleased. [...] But great work, guided by great skill, is never wholly lost: just as they often squandered their intelligence on false presumptions, they sometimes obliterated unexpected truths: when their presumptions were wild, they often paid off. .

So even Johnson, who was skeptical of metaphysical poetry because it seemed so contrived and contrived, had to admit that metaphysical poets occasionally hit the mark and that their invented images and concepts were often worth gutting and interpreting.


In summary, then, metaphysical poetry often uses elaborate imagery, complex concepts, and colloquialisms to explore, or often take a position on, "big" issues, be it love, death, sex, the afterlife, or even the which is beyond our minds. . world itself (Donne especially liked using planetary imagery and the idea of ​​space travel in his work). It's often a challenge, but as Johnson acknowledged, it pays to persevere.

It is not surprising that the modernist poet T. S. Eliotdefended metaphysical poetsin a 1921 essay (and a later series of Cambridge Lectures). Both modernist and metaphysical poets thought that literature should be intellectually sound and deal with big ideas.

(Video) Metaphysical Poetry | Metaphysical Poetry & Poets | English Lit | Elements of Metaphysical Poetry

Here are some classicsExamples of metaphysical poetryHere; for a good anthology we recommendMetaphysical Poetry (Penguin Classics)What is metaphysical poetry? (1).

The author of this article, Dr. Oliver Tearle is a literary critic and professor of English at Loughborough University. Among other things, he is the author ofThe Secret Library: A Book Lover's Journey Through Historical TriviaWhat is metaphysical poetry? (2)miThe Great War, the Desert and the Long Modernist Poem.



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