Easily Understand “Metaphysical Poetry” With Examples

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Can we define “metaphysical poetry”? There is no one, succinct definition of metaphysical poetry like there is for other types of poetry. The Romantics, like many other poetry movements, are closely identified with a particular era and set of writers who knew one other well.

However, the term “metaphysical poetry” has been used retrospectively to describe the writings of various poets from different eras and with little to no thematic connection. Rather, these authors explored similar themes and concerns in their writing while employing quite similar literary strategies. Metaphysical poetry probes deep philosophical and existential themes, typically with a wry sense of humour and an impressive level of intricacy.

In England and continental Europe, the seventeenth century saw the apex of metaphysical poetry. The movement looked at everything, including conceits, philosophy, and irony. The most notable aspect of most metaphysical poems is their original and complicated ideas. Poets relaxed their formerly rigid usage of metre at this time and experimented with novel concepts. The most well-known metaphysical poet is John Donne.

Explaining the term “Metaphysical”

Metaphysical poetry relies heavily on the word “metaphysical,” which is both central to and difficult to define. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that explores fundamental questions concerning reality and cosmological theory. Whether or not they recognise it as such, many people’s everyday lives are infused with metaphysical questions. Common examples of metaphysical inquiries include:

Who created the universe?

Does God exist at all?

Is there one God or many gods?

How can we look at the nature of God?

What is the meaning of life?

There isn’t one universally accepted response to any of these issues, and there certainly aren’t any simple ones. Part of what makes these topics fascinating and useful for philosophical and artistic investigation is that they are complex and have no clear answers.

How metaphysical poetry started?

The English poet John Donne (1572-1631) is widely regarded as the pioneer of metaphysical poetry. Donne wrote extensively about his spiritual doubts and used poetry as a vehicle for expressing and exploring them. He invented a number of the technical and thematic components that are today recognised as being typical of metaphysical poets.

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Donne was a major figure in the development of metaphysical poetry, yet neither he nor his contemporaries ever used the phrase. Another writer by the name of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) in the 1700s used the term “metaphysical poetry” first to characterise the work of Donne and other poets.

According to him, “the whole endeavour of the metaphysical poets was to demonstrate their knowledge” (from The Lives of the Poets). Some of the other metaphysical poets are Richard Crashaw, Abraham Cowley,  George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan and others.

Characteristics of metaphysical poetry

When it comes to metaphysical poetry, the subject matter is often profound. Concepts such as “soul,” “love,” “religion,” “reality,” etc., are discussed. When reading a philosophical poem, you never know what will happen next. There may be out-of-the-ordinary ideas and analogies that will cause you to stop and reflect.

Although it deals with some heavy topics, it does so in a light and humorous manner. Also, it can be quite harsh at times. The goal is to introduce a novel concept and provoke serious consideration from the readers.

The ambiguity of such poetry is another defining quality. The concept of metaphysical poetry is a little hazy because it presents such complex ideas. It varies depending on the individual. It depends on the reader’s perspective and life experiences. A poem might have multiple meanings for different people depending on their views and perspectives.

Learn more: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud: Summary and Analysis

Poems that explore the metaphysical tend to be concise as well. As a result of its economical use of words, it manages to convey a great deal with very few. It’s also worth noting that this genre of poetry is full with aphorisms. Metaphysical poetry received the introduction of sayings by John Donne.

One of poetry’s most distinctive and fascinating features is the way it compares seemingly unrelated concepts. Each and every one of the metaphysicals possesses the gift of the unexpectedly brilliant comparison, juxtaposition, and imagery.

These strange analogies are nothing more than metaphysical conceits. The term “spider love” is an expression Donne employs in Twicknam Garden that goes against the reader’s expectations. Donne also makes an unexpected comparison in the same poem, equating the tears of a lover with wine of love. To compare two things that couldn’t be more different is a hallmark of hubris. Examples include labelling a couple a “bright smoke,” “two points on a compass,” “taking soul as a dew drop,” and so on.

Rather than coming from a place of genuine emotion, the metaphysical poetry seems to have been conceived in a think tank. It has a lot of brains and charm.

Platonic love is another distinctive aspect of this poetry. The term was coined by Plato. Unlike romantic love, platonic love does not revolve around a couple. Non-romantic love is what platonic love is. There is no desire for physical intimacy or lust. It is primarily love for God and is spiritual.

The lyrical form of metaphysical poetry is also very impressive. The fantastical in form and style and the discordant in matter method make up the metaphysical style. In the same way that its diction is rough and choppy, the metaphysical poetry’s versification is too.

One of the primary goals of the metaphysicals was to shock the audience. In an effort to offer something fresh to readers, they eschewed using traditional poetry forms. In contrast to the majority of Elizabethan authors, they used an unconventional style and verse structure.

It asks profound, existential questions of its readers, prompting an intense range of responses.

Conceits in metaphysical poetry

The metaphysical conceit is one of the key components of metaphysical poetry. A poem’s foundation is an elaborate metaphor known as a metaphysical conceit.

The earlier poetry had not attempted to compare two dissimilar concepts in the manner that metaphysical conceits typically do. The imagery in question can be unsettling in some instances. John Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” in which the speaker compares two lovers to the points of a compass, is a notable example of this type of absurdity.

Learn more: Leisure Poem by W. H. Davies: Summary and Analysis

With their use of paradoxes, metaphors, puns that defied expectations, some metaphysical poets astounded audiences as well. This was effectively done by Donne in his poem “The Flea,” which exploits the idea of a flea bite as justification for sharing a bed.

Examples of metaphysical poetry

One of Donne’s best poems and one of the most frequently used examples of a metaphysical poem is “The Flea.” The poem presents a well-known issue in a very creative way.

The speaker in Donne’s poem reassures the woman he has his sights set on that it is okay for them to come together because the same flea has fed on the blood of both of their bodies. They are used to the sensation of their fluids blending together.

Learn more: “Go And Catch A Falling Star” : Summary And Analysis

Henry Vaughn writes about adulthood and the accompanying loss of innocence in his poem “The Retreat.” One moves further from paradise and into the tainted state of adulthood as a result of this procedure. It’s harder to communicate with the divine realm once you’re an adult.

Other than the “The Flea,” Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is the most frequently referenced piece of metaphysical poetry. The speaker, who could be Marvell, addresses a woman he loves in this work. He spends the entire poem pleading with her to sleep with him. He says that people should stop complaining and start living more in the present.

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