Metaphysical Poetry

What is metaphysical poetry?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term "metaphysical" as originally coined by Dr. Johnson was intended to be used as a pejorative. By the time Johnson came to write his Lives Of The Most Eminent English Poets,the works of the metaphysicals had become somewhat passée, and it is in the course of his chapter on Abraham Cowley that Johnson ably summarizes the general disdain for the metaphysical school which existed in the world of English letters at that particular time.

"Metaphysical," for Johnson, is primarily conceived in stylistic terms; he deems the metaphysical style to be too elaborate and over-refined, using intricately contrived verse to convey abstract reflections on a variety of subjects, characterized as philosophical in the broadest sense of the word.

At the heart of Johnson's criticism is his marked disdain for the conceit. This is a key element of metaphysical poetry, one that has, down the centuries, drawn both considerable praise and censure in fairly equal measure. Essentially, a conceit is a variety of analogy, one intended to convey a particularly novel and striking idea through the use of figurative language. To that end a conceit differs from more traditional analogies in that the analogy used and the thing with which it is compared do not appear to have an obvious connection. This is what Johnson is referring to when he complains that "The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together."

Arguably the most famous conceit (or infamous, depending on one's evaluation of metaphysical poetry) is provided by John Donne in his much-anthologized poem "The Flea." Here, Donne seeks to make a highly suggestive comparison between the bite of a flea and the act of copulation. In the seventeenth century, sex was commonly conceived as a mingling of the blood, so Donne feels free to compare the sense of oneness achieved through lovemaking with the unity achieved between the flea and his hapless victim. If the flea can mingle his blood with the suitor's lady, then why can't the suitor? For just as the lady will not suffer death through her unfortunate encounter with the flea, nor will she lose her honor by submitting to her lover's advances.

Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Metaphysical poetry, a term coined by Samuel Johnson, has its roots in 17th-century England. This type of poetry is witty, ingenious, and highly philosophical. It topics included love, life and existence. It used literary elements of similes, metaphors, imagery, paradoxes, conceit, and far-fetched views of reality.

John Donne is regarded as the “leading poet” of this highly intellectual form of poetry. Donne was influenced by the belief that the precision of beauty in the adored (loved one) behaved as a commemoration of ideal beauty in the everlasting kingdom (heaven). He also used unconventional and colloquial rhythm and tone, which was highly contrary to the Elizabethan poetry style.

mohitsharma | Student

First we should pay our attention the word 'Metaphysical'.

It is made of 2 words 'meta' - beyond and 'physical' - our sorroundings means such artificial world.

Thus the combine sense in association with poetry is - The Poetry that is having a particular sense that is beyond this artificial world. It means Heavenly / Spritual / Intllectual thought.

For Example - to talk about mourning on a sapration from belovit is a worldly thought but to talk about an inner satisfaction is of soul's connection (either the bodies are united or not) is a thought beyond this corporal world.

Metaphysical Poetry

cappuccinolivanto | Student

features wit, a conceit and an argument of some sort. For example, Donne's 'The Flea' compares the lovers' union with a flea, cleverly developing his argument throughout the poem. The concept of platonic and courtly love also feature strongly in metaphysical poetry.

dankilicious | Student

 A highly intellectual form of poetry developed at somepoint during the 17th century.  John Donne was considered the first metaphysical poet.

kayleigh141094 | Student

Metaphysical Poetry explores the abstract, emotions, thoughts, feelings, ideas, spiritual things etc. basically things you cant touch.

wattersr | Student

When one uses the term Metaphysics, they are usually referring to something spiritual; something you can't touch, something beyond this world.  I suppose Metaphysical poetry is not what one would call "down to Earth" poetry, but poetry dealing with unearthly, spiritual concepts and the unknown.  (I'm no professor on the subject though)

An example might be a poem dealing with what happens after death, the eternal soul, other dimensions, ect