Metaphysical poetry, a term generally applied to the works of a group of English poets of the seventeenth century who wrote poetry in dramatic and conversational in rhythm in tone, intriguing and complex in theme and idea. Metaphysical poetry is also rich in striking and unusual imagery chosen from philosophy, theology, the arts, crafts and sciences. Metaphysical poems were also known as lyrical poems which are brief but intense meditations, characterized by striking use of wit, irony and wordplay. The poets used fresh and sophisticated approach to the writing of the lyrics which was marked by intellectual quality and inventive and subtle style, with the use of the metaphysical conceit that employs unusual and paradoxical images. The poets used exaggerated imagery that demands the reader to think about their poems rather than feel them emotionally. These poems were written about love, romantic and sensual; about man's relationship with God which is the eternal perspective, and, to a less extent, about pleasure, learning and art. Also those poems were written in lines of unequal or varying length and in rhythms that reflect the irregular and unpredictable movements of an active mind and of an informal speaking voice. Critics claimed metaphysical poets were only writing to show off their intelligence but many other enjoy figuring out metaphysical poems and approach them like solving a riddle. DRYDEN was the first to apply the term to 17th-century poetry when, in 1693, he criticized Donne: 'He affects the Metaphysics... 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.' He disapproved of Donne's stylistic excesses, particularly his extravagant conceits (or witty comparisons) and his tendency towards hyperbolic abstractions. SAMUEL JOHNSON (the critic) often referred to as Dr Johnson consolidated the argument in THE LIVES OF THE POETS, where he noted (with reference to Cowley) that 'about the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets'. He named them metaphysical poets in eighteenth century and went on to describe the far-fetched nature of their comparisons as 'a kind of discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike'. Examples of the practice Johnson condemned would include the extended comparison of love with astrology (by Donne) and of the soul with a drop of dew (by Marvell). Metaphysical poets were hardly read and gained recognition until twentieth century when T.S ELLIOT and other modern poets brought metaphysical poetry into limelight, appreciated the works of Donne and other poets. There are many poets from JACOBEAN ERA who are characterized as metaphysical poets and belong to THE METAPHYSICAL SCHOOL of thought, because they share common thinking, ideology and style of writing poetry. Among them there are four major poets named John Donne (1572–1631),George Herbert (1593–1633), Andrew Marvell (1621–1678) and Henry Vaughan (1622–1695). These poets were not formally affiliated to each other as most of them did not even know or read each other. Those poets were from JAMES I reign and were known as Jacobean poets. They were considered minor poets as they haven’t done anything extraordinary unlike John Milton and Chaucer.
John Donne (1572–1631) one of the most influential metaphysical poet from 17 century, was born in Bread Street, London in 1572 to a prosperous Roman Catholic family, at a time when open practice of that religion was illegal in England. His father, also named John Donne, was a well-to-do ironmonger. Donne’s father died in 1576, leaving his wife Elizabeth to raise 6 children. Elizabeth Heywood was also from recusant Catholic family (who refused to attend Anglican services) and daughter of John Heywood, the...
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