In the eighteenth century, the term “Metaphysical poets” was coined to refer to certain writers, primarily of religious verse, of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries who shared similar characteristics. Although scholars have suggested many alternative names (Louis Martz called their works the poetry of meditation, and Mario DiCesare’s anthology spoke simply of seventeenth century religious poets), the term “Metaphysical poets” remained useful to literary historians for more than two hundred years.
The Metaphysicals were never a self-conscious group, for the most part having limited or no contact with one another—even though the literary world of London at the time was quite small. The list of who is considered a Metaphysical poet has fluctuated through changes in fashion and, of course, in the very definition of Metaphysical verse. Prominent names in most discussions of Metaphysical poetry include John Donne (1572-1631), George Herbert (1593-1633), Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), Thomas Traherne (c. 1637-1674), Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), Richard Crashaw (c. 1612-1649), Robert Southwell (c. 1561-1595), Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), Sir William Davenant (1606-1668), Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), and Thomas Carew (1594-1640). American critic Louis Martz has recognized two early American poets, Anne Bradstreet (1612?-1672) and Edward Taylor (c. 1645-1729), as sharing many characteristics with these English poets.
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