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

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Metaphysical poetry often explores the power of emotions, ideas about spirituality and also the nature of death, and life after death. In short, metaphysical poetry explores all those aspects of life which are beyond, or outside of the physical.

In "Death Be Not Proud," Donne challenges the claim that death...

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Metaphysical poetry often explores the power of emotions, ideas about spirituality and also the nature of death, and life after death. In short, metaphysical poetry explores all those aspects of life which are beyond, or outside of the physical.

In "Death Be Not Proud," Donne challenges the claim that death is the end of life, and insists that death is merely the process by which one's soul is set free. Death is, therefore, not the end but rather the moment before we "wake eternally." This implies that Donne had something of a spiritual outlook on life, and believed that our souls would live on forever after death.

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of metaphysical poetry is the use of imaginative metaphors, or conceits, to convey an idea or argument. In "The Flea," the speaker of the poem tries to convince a woman to have sex with him by arguing that having sex would be no more dishonorable than killing a flea. At the end of the poem the woman kills the flea and the speaker says:

Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.
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John Donne's poetry has two major phases:

Early Donne: poetry is about physical love and the physical union of the male and female

Late Donne: poetry is about sin and guilt and the spiritual union between man and God

He uses metaphysical ("above," "beyond" the physical; spiritual; erotic; supernatural) conceits: elaborate and extended metaphors about the following subjects: alchemy, horticulture, astronomy, navigation, neo-Platonism, military, microcosm/macrocosm, law, and mathematics.

  • "The Flea" uses the conceit of blood exchange to represent physical union (sex).  The poem is a grand pick-up line: he's trying to convince her to go to bed.  The conceit compares physical death to a kind of orgasm.
  • "Forbidding Mourning" uses the conceit of a compass (geometrical instrument).  The female is the fixed point and the male is the traveling pencil.  He is away while she is at home, but if she waits for him, he will come "full circle" to form a symbol of love: the ring.
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