Metaphysical poets

Metaphysical poets
John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysical Poets.

The metaphysical poets is a term coined by the poet and critic Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of British lyric poets of the 17th century, who shared an interest in metaphysical concerns and a common way of investigating them, and whose work was characterized by inventiveness of metaphor (these involved comparisons being known as metaphysical conceits). These poets were not formally affiliated; most of them did not even know or read each other. Their poetry was influenced greatly by the changing times, new sciences and the new found debauched scene of the 17th century.


Origin of the name

Poet and critic Samuel Johnson, who gave the school its now-used name.

In Life of Cowley (from Samuel Johnson's 1781 work of biography and criticism Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets), Johnson refers to the beginning of the seventeenth century in which there "appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets". This does not necessarily imply that he intended metaphysical to be used in its true sense, in that he was probably referring to a witticism of John Dryden,[1] who said of John Donne: "He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softnesses of love. In this . . . Mr. Cowley has copied him to a fault." Probably the only writer before Dryden to speak of a certain metaphysical school or group of metaphysical poets is Drummond of Hawthornden (1585–1649), who in one of his letters speaks of "metaphysical Ideas and Scholastical Quiddities." [2]

Metaphysical Poetry- a type of poetry that stresses the intellectual over the emotional; it is marked by irony, paradox, and striking comparisons of dissimilar things, the latter frequently being far-fetched to the point of eccentricity.


Their style was characterized by wit and metaphysical conceits—far-fetched or unusual similes or metaphors, such as in Andrew Marvell’s comparison of the soul with a drop of dew; in an expanded epigram format, with the use of simple verse forms, octosyllabic couplets, quatrains or stanzas in which length of line and rhyme scheme enforce the sense.[3] The specific definition of wit which Johnson applied to the school was: "...a kind of discordia concours; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike." [4] Their poetry diverged from the style of their times, containing neither images of nature nor allusions to classical mythology, as were common.[5] Several metaphysical poets, especially John Donne, were influenced by Neo-Platonism. One of the primary Platonic concepts found in metaphysical poetry is the idea that the perfection of beauty in the beloved acted as a remembrance of perfect beauty in the eternal realm. Though secular subjects drew them (in particular matter drawn from the new science, from the expanding geographical horizons of the period, and from dialectic) there was also a strong casuistic element to their work, defining their relationship with God.[6] .

Critical opinion

Critical opinion of the school has been varied. Johnson claimed that "they were not successful in representing or moving the affections" and that neither "was the sublime more within their reach."[7] Generally, his criticism of the poets' style was grounded in his assertion that "Great thoughts are always general," and that the metaphysical poets were too particular in their search for novelty. He did concede, however, that "they...sometimes stuck out unexpected truth" and that their work is often intellectually, if not emotionally stimulating.[8] The group was to have a significant influence on 20th-century poetry, especially through T. S. Eliot, whose essay The Metaphysical Poets (1921) praised the very anti-Romantic and intellectual qualities of which Johnson and his contemporaries had disapproved, and helped bring their poetry back into favour with readers.[9]

Metaphysical poets

The following poets have also been sometimes considered metaphysical poets[citation needed]:

Notes and references

  1. ^ Gardner, Helen. Metaphysical Poets, Oxford University Press, London, 1957.
  2. ^ Gardner, Helen. Metaphysical Poets, Oxford University Press, London, 1957.
  3. ^ Gardner, Helen The Metaphysical Poets Penguin Books,1957 ISBN 0-14-042038-X
  4. ^ Johnson, Samuel. Selected Writings, Penguin Books, 1968.
  5. ^ Halleck, Ruben. Halleck's New English Literature, American Book Company, 1913.
  6. ^ Ceri Sullivan, The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  7. ^ Johnson, Samuel. Selected Writings, Penguin, 1968.
  8. ^ Johnson, Samuel. Selected Writings, Penguin, 1968.
  9. ^ The Metaphysical Poets by T.S. Eliot, 1921.

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Metaphysical Poets — Als metaphysische Dichtung (engl. metaphysical poetry) wird eine Strömung in der englischen Dichtung des Barock im 17. Jahrhundert bezeichnet. Ihre Vertreter eint ein Interesse an philosophischen Fragen, wobei metaphysisch hier nicht als das… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • metaphysical poets — n a group of 17th century English poets, including John Donne, George Herbert and Andrew Marvell. Their poetry was marked by a clever and complicated mixture of words and ideas, with each poem being based on a central idea, or ‘conceit’. They… …   Universalium

  • metaphysical poets — group of 17th century English poets who mixed rationalism and emotion in their poetry …   English contemporary dictionary

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  • Metaphysical — may refer to: Metaphysics, a branch of philosophy dealing with aspects of existence and the theory of knowledge The supernatural Metaphysical poets, a poetic school from seventeenth century England who correspond with baroque period in European… …   Wikipedia

  • Metaphysical poet — ▪ English literature  any of the poets in 17th century England who inclined to the personal and intellectual complexity and concentration that is displayed in the poetry of John Donne (Donne, John), the chief of the Metaphysicals. Others include… …   Universalium

  • metaphysical — adjective 1》 relating to metaphysics.     ↘based on abstract reasoning.     ↘transcending physical matter or the laws of nature. 2》 denoting certain 17th century English poets known for their subtlety of thought and complex imagery. noun (the… …   English new terms dictionary

  • metaphysical — adj. & n. adj. 1 of or relating to metaphysics. 2 based on abstract general reasoning. 3 excessively subtle or theoretical. 4 incorporeal; supernatural. 5 visionary. 6 (of poetry, esp. in the 17th c. in England) characterized by subtlety of… …   Useful english dictionary

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