John Donne Questions and Answers

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Does the use of imagery and language in John Donne's poetry justify the label Metaphysical? Please include reference to two Donne poems.

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Donne's poems definitely qualify as belonging to the metaphysical school.  The metaphysical poets (though they were only stylistically affiliated, not personally) include a small number of early seventeenth-century writers, but Donne and George Herbert are the most well-known.  The main characteristic of metaphysical poetry is the use of inventive metaphors called "metaphysical conceits."  These conceits often use unusual or illogical items as their vehicle.  In Donne's poetry, the most famous example of the metaphysical conceit is in "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning."  Here, Donne compares himself and his beloved to the two legs of a compass, who stay connected no matter how far they are stretched apart.  This conceit is somewhat unusual; before Donne, few would say that "love is like a compass"!  A second example can be found in Donne's "Hymn to God, my God, in my Sickness," in which Donne compares his body to a map that his physicians must study and understand in order to cure him.

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