This study guide has been written for students taking GCE Advanced level English literature. It is suitable for undergraduates and the general reader who is interested in the study of poetry. This guide was originally written to cover a selection of poems prescribed as a set text for exam, but can be used as a way in to the study of metaphysical poetry generally. The poems considered explicitly here are these:
by John Donne, The Good-Morrow, The Sunne Rising, The Anniversarie, The Canonization, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning and A Nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day by George Herbert, Jordan (I), The Pearl, The Collar, Discipline and Love (III) by Andrew Marvell, The Coronet, Bermudas, To His Coy Mistress, The Definition of Love and The Garden by Henry Vaughan, The Retreate, The World, Man and “They Are All Gone into the World of Light” On an Advanced level course you should study your chosen text (here a range of poems) in very close detail. In preparing for an exam you need to learn to see the whole wood, rather than look at individual trees. Detailed “notes” on poems or line-by-line “cribs” will not be given here. If you want such commentaries they can be found in,for example, John Donne and Eight Metaphysical Poets (both published by Heinemann) and in A Reader's Guide to the Metaphysical Poets by George Williamson (Thames and Hudson).
If you want a close reading of the work of one of these poets, then try my guide to the George Herbert. Click on the link below to open this.
Go to guide on George Herbert's poetry
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What is a metaphysical poem?
The term "metaphysical" when applied to poetry has a long and interesting history. You should know this, but the information in Helen Gardner's Introduction to The Metaphysical Poets (Penguin)is more than adequate. Luckily, you have no time in an exam for a lengthy discussion. The examiner wants to see you discuss the text.
Metaphysical poetry is concerned with the whole experience...
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