What are the characteristics of metaphysical poetry?

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ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Metaphysical poetry is a term applied to many poets who wrote in a rather difficult and abstract style during the 1600's. John Donne and Andrew Marvell are probably the best known of these poets who write very intellectual poems that appeal to the minds, rather than the emotions of the readers. They use very clever but obscure and unusual, exaggerated imagery that demands the reader think about their poems rather than feel them emotionally. Their verbal humor and philosophy about life is often embedded in their poems with a very harsh meter. As John Donne said, " I sing not siren-like, to tempt, for I am harsh." Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a Romantic poet, claims that Donne's poems sounded like "a forge and fire-blast."  Critics claimed that metaphysical poets were only writing to show off their intelligence. However,many others enjoy figuring out metaphysical poems and approach them like solving a riddle. 

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kmj23 | (Level 1) Educator

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Metaphysical poetry is the name given to a style of poetry from the seventeenth century. Some of metaphysical poets include John Donne, Edward Taylor, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell. While poets like these did not write in a wholly uniform way, their work does share some common characteristics:

  1. Analyze the subject matter from an intellectual viewpoint. A metaphysical poet would not simply declare a feeling of love; he would analyze it and try to understand its higher purpose and meaning.
  2. Heavy use of literary devices, like paradox, pun, and irony to convey the subject matter. Metaphysical poetry also uses a lot of colloquial (everyday) language. Donne, for instance, uses the phrase "busy old foole" in his poem, "The Sun Rising."
  3. Random or irregular style. Many metaphysical poems have a distinct style, often using "rough metrics" or "packed lines." Take a look at George Herbert's "The Collar" for an example of this chaotic and rather disordered form.
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sesh | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Use of far fetched metaphors, logical argumentation and genre can be stated as the main characteristics.

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tuhin99 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Some characteristics of the genre: Except for Milton, all poets in this school are said to have wit: a sort of alliancebetween levity and seriousness. As the term metaphysical implies, this poetry...

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cuyler | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

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Simply metaphysical poetry is about the non physical aspects of a person. For example the soul and what happens after death.

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mancirat21 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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Metaphysical poems are characterised by wit and metaphysical conceit,with unusual simile and metaphores, platonic concepts.

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