John Donne Questions and Answers

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What is metaphysical poetry? What are its characteristics?

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Metaphysical poetry came out of 17th century England. It is characterized by strange conceits (comparisons), images, or paradoxes (seemingly contradictory statements that actually have truth to them). Often centering on love, religion, or morality, these types of poems offer a logical or philosophical argument. Therefore, the poet will weave in comparisons that seem very out of place. However, once analyzed, these images or conceits do somehow relate to the poet's overall point.

A great poet to read is John Donne. Known as a highly religious poet, Donne has written quite a few metaphysical poems. One of his most famous is "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." Donne weaves in an extended metaphor of a mathematical compass as the speaker tries to convince his lover that his leaving is only temporary. The speaker refers to the compass to prove that he will return because their love is true.

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Metaphysical poetry usually refers to the works of several 17th century British poets.  The most commonly known is John Donne; however, there are several others that fall into this category as well.  These poets used turns of wit, metaphors, and conceits to look at philosophical, abstract, and intellectually fanciful ideas.  Characteristics of these poems often included a deep and particular since of wit expressed in odd metaphors or similes.  These poets were wildly different from the others of their time.  They did not write about nature or mythological connections, but rather they wrote about metaphysical concepts.  They were prompted by the new science of the time and often fueled by religious convictions to look a how the things of this world would translate into the eternal world.  The poem "Death be not Proud" by John Donne illustrates some of these metaphysical ideals.