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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Metaphysics is one of those concepts that often falls into the "you know it when you see it" category as it is not easily reducible to a simple definition. 

The word "metaphysics" derives from the Greek words μετά (metá) ("beyond" or "after") andφυσικά (physiká) ("physics").

We can say metaphysics is concerned primarily with inquiry or expression that goes beyond the physical world.

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world,[1] although the term is not easily defined.[2] 

In literature, we might identify passages or whole works as metaphysical if they deal with ideas of the spirit (or of existence) that are not specifically related to any dogma or religion. Moments of metaphysical interest are present in All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, for example, as well as in many of the works of the Transcendentalist poets and writers, including Walt Whitman. 

These writers show an interest in positing a spiritual identity that goes beyond the physical world, or which helps to explain the emotional and intellectual states that an individual experiences. 

Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:

  1. "What is there?" and
  2. "What is it like?"[3]

From a literary stand-point, metaphysics is rather easy to identify, though difficult to define. From a philosophical stand-point, metaphysics becomes even more difficult to pin down and refers to a type of inquiry and perhaps philosophical methodology. 

We might say most simply that the term metaphysics is commonly used to describe thoughts and expressions that are spiritual in nature. 

angels9286 | Student

metaphysical means highly abstract and overly theoretical.

In Literature Metaphysical denoting or relating to certain 17th-century poets who combined intense feeling with ingenious thought and often used elaborate imagery and conceits. Notable among them were Donne, Herbert, and Marvell.