Features of Metaphysical Poetry and Metaphysical Poets

Read this article to know about the meaning of Metaphysical Poetry, its main characteristics and the Metaphysical Poets.

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i) Introduction

metaphysical poetry features

“Metaphysical Poets” is a term coined by poet & critic Samuel Johnson, who describes a loose group of English lyric poets of 17th century, whose work was characterised by ample use of conceits, guess & speculation about topics such as love, religion etc.

These poets were not formerly affiliated; most of them did not know each other or read each other’s work. Metaphysical poetry is extremely intelligent & witty. It is deeply religious, but is also ironical. It is little bit different from other types of poetry.

Poems classified in this category do share the same characteristics. They are all of highly intellectualised, use strange imagery & contain complicated thoughts.

ii) Meaning and Origin of the Word-METAPHYSICAL

The word “meta” means “after”. Thus metaphysics deals with the questions that can’t be explained by science. It questions the nature of reality in a philosophical way.

Metaphysics can cover a broad range of topics from religious to consciousness. Metaphysics is about exploration & philosophy, not about science & mathematics.

iii) Characteristic Features of Metaphysical Poetry

Following are the main characteristics of the metaphysical poetry-

  • Themes

Metaphysical poetry is spiritual & has often religious themes. Moreover, it focuses on love, as the union of soul.

Metaphysical poetry uses metaphors, puns, paradoxes & meter to create drama & tension. In addition, Metaphysical poetry uses scientific, medical & legal words & phrases to create arguments about the philosophical aspect of life.

  • Poets

Metaphysical poets were men of high intellect. They were all graduated from Oxford University, Cambridge University or they studied at one of the Inns of Court in the city of London. With the help of their vast knowledge, they presented new ideas & stories to their readers.

  • Unclarity

Metaphysical poetry is considered highly ambiguous & obscure due to high intellect & knowledge of metaphysical poets. The poetry is greatly challenging to understand at the first reading. It needs full concentration & full attention to get to the roots of matter.

  • Short Poems

Metaphysical poetry is considered to be brief & concise. Every line conveys a lot of meanings in a few words. Every word is adjusted in every line like a brick in a wall & conveys the message of the author. Hence there is no wastage of words.

  • Sayings in the Poetry

Metaphysical poetry is a vast collection of maxims & sayings. Thus epigrammatic quality is part & parcel of the metaphysical poetry. John Donne is a pioneer in this regard.

  • Metaphysical Conceits 

A significant feature of the metaphysical poetry is the use of metaphysical conceits. It is the unique quality of metaphysical poetry.

Conceit is a comparison of two dissimilar things, which may have very little in common.

E.g. Abraham Cowley in his poem “The Mistress” compares his love for ladies to his habit of traveling in various countries of the world.

  • Originality 

Originality is the hallmark of metaphysical poets. All the metaphysical poets were unique & original in their ideas & thoughts. They didn’t follow the path of their contemporary poets. They stood against their contemporaries & followed their own way of writing poetry.

  • Wit

Metaphysical wit is also a noteworthy feature of metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical wit is the expression of one’s idea & thoughts, using aptly & technically, the words & various figures of speech in such a manner as to provide pleasure to the readers.

John Donne is called the “Monarch of Wit” in the history of metaphysical poetry.

  • Platonic Love

Platonic love is another feature of metaphysical poetry. Platonic love means, spiritual love, which is free from elements of physical love.

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iv) Metaphysical Poets

  • John Donne

All conversations about metaphysical poetry must start with John Donne. He is considered the founder of metaphysical poetry & master of metaphysical conceits. His renowned works are “Holy Sonnets”, “Sonnet X”, “Sonnet XIV” & “Sonnet XVII”. (read Good Morrow by John Donne)

  • George Herbert

He mainly wrote religious poems that had ample of imagery & conceits. His famous works are “Prudentium” & “The Temple”.

  • Andrew Marvell

He was the son of a clergyman. His works were published after his death. His famous satires are: “Tom May’s Death” & “Horatian”. “To His Coy Mistress” is one of the best love poems of Andrew Marvell.

  • Other metaphysical poets of this age are Crashaw, Vaughan, Abraham Cowley etc who produced marvellous poems in their age.

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v) Conclusion

Metaphysical poetry is not intended to be read in a passive way. Its use of paradox, imagery, conceit & wit are meant to awaken the reader. Metaphysical poetry asks the philosophical questions about religion, faith, spirituality & being.

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