Metaphysical Poetry

2 February 2017

Metaphysical Poetry The term ‘metaphysical poets’ came into being long after the the poets, to whom it is applied, were dead. What later came to be known as ‘metaphysical poetry’ was referred to, by contemporaries, as ‘strong lived’- a term which meant something more than the poet’s fondness for indulging in nice speculations of philosophy. A metaphysical poem tends to be brief, and is always closely woven. Marvell, under the metaphor of a Coronet characterizes his own art precisely in The Coronet, when he speaks of a ‘curious fume’ in which the flowers are set with skills and chosen out with care .

Concentration and a sinewy strength of style are distinctive marks of Donne’s poetry. A stanza from Donne or Herbert is like a limiting frame in which words and thoughts are compressed, ‘a box where sweets compacted lie’ . The other characteristic of metaphysical poetry, its most immediately striking feature is its fondness for conceits. A conceit is a comparison whose ingenuity is more striking. All comparisons discover likeness in things unlike a comparison because a conceit when we are made to concede likeness while being strongly conscious of unlikeness.In a metaphysical poem, conceits are instruments of definition. In an argument or instruments to persuade.

The poem has something to say which the conceit helps to forward. The metaphysical conceit aims at making us concede aptness while admiring ingenuity. Thus in one of the most famous of all metaphysical conceits, the comparison of the union is absence of two lovers with the relation between the two legs of compass, Donne sustains the comparison through the whole process of drawing a circle. Donne, in fact tries to give a proof by analogy of their union and thereby finally persuade his mistress not to mourn. The whole frame of the poem’, Donne believes, ‘is a beating out of a piece of gold’. Arguments and persuasions and the use of conceit as their instrument, are the elements or body of a metaphysical poem. A reader of metaphysical poetry may at times, explain: “who would ever think such a thought in such a situation? ” He will probably never explain : “who can imagine himself in such a situation? ”.

Dryden praised Donne for expressing deep thought in common language. He is usually remarkable for having extraordinary thoughts in ordinary situations.The ‘metaphysical poems’ do not necessarily or always draw upon metaphysics or profound philosophy. The term, in fact, was coined by Dr. Johnson as a negative compliment to the poets of the seventeenth century. Johnson probably took offense at their violent yoking of unlike ideas and images and their staining after intellectualistic, Johnson disliked, what one might call, their ironic detachment, their lack of uniform sentiment, their refusal to allow the reader to identify himself emotionally, with the speaker.The metaphysical poets didn’t live up to demands for smoothness of versification and beauty of sound which Johnson admired in Pope.

The only good Johnson could find in them is some intellectual labor, learning and ingenuity or Johnson could never agree that after the dissociation, these poets could put the material together again in a new unity. There is Mr.Eliot on the other hand who believes that the poets of the 17th century possessed a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience and it’s probably, this quality of the ‘metaphysical poets’ which has really inspired the poets of our age to go back to these poets for a rediscovery. One really finds it very difficult to make a very sharp classification among the poets of 17th century. All of them- Donne, Herbert, Gashaw, Vaugham, Marvell have certain qualities in common and still they all retain certain qualities which are particularly their own. To be continued……..

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