John Donne's Songs and Sonnets by John Donne

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Features Of Metaphysical Poetry

Discuss the features of metaphysical poetry in Donne's poems.

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The term “metaphysical poetry” was not a term used by Donne or by his contemporaries when referring to poems by him or other poets of his time.  The term was first used, when referring to Donne, by John Dryden in 1693 when he complained that Donne “affects the Metaphysics . . . in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts.” Later, the great critic Samuel Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets, wrote that “about the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets,” of whom Donne was the chief.  The term “metaphysical,” then, was used both by Dryden and by Johnson more as a term of disapproval than as a merely descriptive term.

I’ve taken both of these quotations from The Wordsworth Companion to Literature in English, edited by Ian Ousby (1994; originally published by Cambridge University Press in...

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