What is Metaphysical Poetry? (Definition and Characteristics) - Literary English (2023)

The word ‘Metaphysical Poetry’ is aphilosophicalconcept used in literature where poets portray the things/ideas that are beyond the depiction of physical existence. Etymologically, there is a combination of two words ‘meta’ and ‘physical in word “metaphysical”.’ The first word “Meta” means beyond. So metaphysical means beyond physical, beyond the normal and ordinary. The meanings are clear here that it deals with the objects/ideas that are beyond the existence of this physical world. Let us look at the origin of wordmetaphysical poetryin more detail.

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Origin of the Word Metaphysical Poetry

In the bookLives of theMost Eminent English Poets (1179-1781)”,the authorSamuel Johnsonmade the first use of the wordMetaphysical Poetry. He used the term Metaphysical poets to define a loose group of the poets of 17thcentury.The group was not formal and most of the poets put in this category did not know or read each other’s writings. This group’s most prominent poets includeJohn Donne, Andrew Marvell,Abraham Cowley, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Richard Crashaw,etc. He noted in his writing that all of these poets had the same style of wit and conceit in their poetry.

The types of questions metaphysical poetry may make you ask yourself can be:

  1. Is our world real or a projection?
  2. Is there an afterlife?
  3. Can souls time travel?
  4. Is God out there?
  5. Are we restricted in our bodies or free?
  6. Is fate real?

There are just so many questions like that, which otherwise we might ignore. The thing that is obvious here is that none of these questions has a definite answer in science. It is all about belief and philosophy.

Definition of Metaphysical Poetry

Metaphysical poetry is a genre of poetry that deals with deep and profound subjects like spirituality, religion, etc. It is highly intellectual form of poetry and presents the world to its readers in a different way. It asks questions that science cannot answer.Metaphysical poetryprompts the readers to question their reality and existence. It takes one beyond the physical world and gives new perspectives through its imagery, wit and paradox.

Definition in Merriam Webster Dictionary

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Highly intellectualized poetry marked by bold and ingenious conceits, incongruous imagery, complexity and subtlety of thought, frequent use of paradox, and often by deliberate harshness or rigidity of expression

Characteristics of Metaphysical poetry

  • Metaphysical poetry talks about deep things. It talks about soul, love, religion, reality etc. You can never be sure about what is coming your way while reading a metaphysical poem. There can be unusual philosophies and comparisons that will make you think and ponder.
  • The most important characteristics of metaphysical poetry is “undissociated sensibility” (the combination of feeling and thoughts).
  • Even though it talks about serious stuff, it talks about it in a humorous way. The tone is sometimes light. It can be harsh sometimes too. The purpose is to present a new idea and make the reader think.
  • Another characteristic of such poetry is that it is unclear. Because it provides such complicated themes, the idea of metaphysical poems is somewhat not definite. It is different for every person. It depends on the perception and experiences of the reader. Every person will take something different out of the same poem based on their beliefs and understanding.
  • Metaphysical poetry is also short. It uses brief words and conveys a lot of ideas in just a small number of words. There are many maxims in this type of poetry too. John Donne introduced sayings into metaphysical poetry.
  • The unusual comparison of things in poetry is one of its unique and most interesting characteristics. All the metaphysicals have ability for unusual witty comparison , juxtaposition, and imagery. These unusual comparison are metaphysicalconceits. As Donne in Twicknam Garden uses expression “spider love” that is contrary to the expectations of the readers. In the same poem, Donne also compares a lovers tears to wine of love that is unusual use of juxtaposition. Conceit compares very dissimilar things. For example bright smoke, calling lovers as two points of compass, taking soul as dew drop, etc.
  • The metaphysical poetry is brain-sprung, not heart-felt. It is intellectual and witty.
  • According to Grierson, the twochief characteristics of metaphysical poetry are paradoxical ratiocination and passionate feelings. As Donne opens his poem “The indifferent” with a line with a paradoxical comment.“I can love both fair and brown”
  • Other unique feature of this poetry isPlatonic Love. The word is taken afterPlato. Platonic love is a non-romantic love. There is no lust or need of physical contact. It is spiritual love and is mostly for God.
  • Another feature of the metaphysical poetry is its fantastic lyrics style. As A. C. Word said: “The metaphysical style is a combination of two elements, the fantastic form and style, and the incongruous in matter manner”. The versification of the metaphysical poetry is also coarse and jerky like its diction. The main intention of the metaphysicals was to startle the readers. They deliberately avoided conventional poetic style to bring something new to the readers. Their style was not conventional and the versification contrast with much of the Elizabethan writers.
  • It arouses some extreme level of thoughts and feelings in the readers by asking life-altering questions.

The Contribution of Metaphysical Poets to English Literature

Here are some of the main contributions of the metaphysical poets to English literature.

  • The metaphysical poets enriched English literature with best religious poetry. Donne, Herbert, Crawsha, Vaughan, and Traherence are the most prominent among the religious poets in English.
  • Metaphysical poets also contributed a lot in the field of love poetry. Their contribution in love is quite considerable and holds an important place in history of English literature.
  • The ruggedness and vulgarity in versification and diction by metaphysicals also made a remarkable service to English poets to realize them that mere “smoothness of numbers” does not make a poetry marked as perfection but there are also other factors that can make a great poetry.

Prominent Works in Metaphysical Poetry

Some of the great metaphysical poetry works by metaphysical poets include:

The Flea, The Sun Rising, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, Death Be Not Proud, by John Donne,The Collar, The Pulley,by George Herbert,The Retreat,by Henry Vaughan,The Definition of Love, To His Coy Mistress,by Andrew Marvell, etc.

Conclusion

Metaphysical poetry is to be read with an open mind. It is not purposely trying to convince readers to think in a certain way but it provides a new way of thinking. Metaphysical poets are highly intellectual and people of learning. Reader’s minds open up, their area of thinking expands, and they awaken by their writings. The challenging approach of such poetry develops the concentration of readers on the things that exist beyond this physical world. It also permits the poets to state their inner thoughts in the poetry though higher cognitive skills are required to digest the abstract ideas and concepts coined in metaphysical texts of poetry.

About Authoress: The article “What is Metaphysical Poetry?” was written by Sayeda Javaria. (javaria.hanan@gmail.com).

(Video) What is Metaphysical Poetry? Characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry, Metaphysical Poets

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Background to Literature

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The Rape of the Lock

John Donne

Metaphysical Poetry

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Oedipus The King

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Old Man and the Sea

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Heart of Darkness

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FAQs

What is metaphysical poetry answer? ›

Definition of metaphysical poetry

: highly intellectualized poetry marked by bold and ingenious conceits, incongruous imagery, complexity and subtlety of thought, frequent use of paradox, and often by deliberate harshness or rigidity of expression.

What are the characteristics of metaphysical conceit? ›

A metaphysical conceit is a complex, and often lofty literary device that makes a far-stretched comparison between a spiritual aspect of a person and a physical thing in the world. Quite simply, a metaphysical conceit is an extended metaphor, which can sometimes last through the entire poem.

What is metaphysical poet in literature? ›

Metaphysical poet, any of the poets in 17th-century England who inclined to the personal and intellectual complexity and concentration that is displayed in the poetry of John Donne, the chief of the Metaphysicals.

What is not a characteristic of metaphysical poetry? ›

Metaphysical poetry is not intended to be read in a passive way, and its use of paradox, imagery and wit are meant to awaken the reader.

What is metaphysical poetry introduction? ›

The Term Metaphysical

According to Grierson, metaphysical poetry, in the full sense of the term, is a poetry which "has been inspired by a philosophical conception of the universe and of the role assigned to the human spirit in the great drama of existence".

What are the types of metaphysical poetry? ›

The term Metaphysical poets was coined by the critic Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of 17th-century English poets whose work was characterised by the inventive use of conceits, and by a greater emphasis on the spoken rather than lyrical quality of their verse.

What are main features of metaphysical poetry? ›

Metaphysical poetry is a group of poems that share common characteristics: they are all highly intellectualized, use rather strange imagery, use frequent paradox and contain extremely complicated thought.

What is the definition of metaphysical conceit? ›

The metaphysical conceit, associated with the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century, is a more intricate and intellectual device. It usually sets up an analogy between one entity's spiritual qualities and an object in the physical world and sometimes controls the whole structure of the poem.

What are the elements of metaphysical poetry? ›

Metaphysical poems have the elements of metaphors, metaphysical conceits, paradoxes, and analogies. Metaphors and metaphysical conceits, a type of extended metaphor, are used to show a connection between two things that are not similar and to prove the speaker's point in his poem.

Who is the father of metaphysical poetry? ›

John Donne was born in 1572 in London, England. He is known as the founder of the Metaphysical Poets, a term created by Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth-century English essayist, poet, and philosopher. The loosely associated group also includes George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and John Cleveland.

Who is the father of metaphysics? ›

Answer and Explanation: Parmenides is the father of metaphysics. Parmenides is a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher whose work survives today in fragments.

Who is the most important poet of metaphysical poetry? ›

Donne (1572–1631) was the most influential Metaphysical poet. His personal relationship with spirituality is at the center of most of his work, and the psychological analysis and sexual realism of his work marked a dramatic departure from traditional, genteel verse.

What are the main themes of metaphysical poetry? ›

The themes that are most common to metaphysical poetry are love/lust, religion, and morality. Some of the authors who explored these themes were John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan.

Who first used the word metaphysical? ›

It seems that the Scottish writer William Drummond in around 1630 was one of the first to apply the term “metaphysical” to particular poets, but the critic often associated with the seventeenth-century application of the term is John Dryden.

How many Metaphysical poets are there? ›

The most important metaphysical poets are John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, and Andrew Marvell. Their work has considerably influenced the poetry of the 20th cent.

When was the metaphysical poetry movement? ›

Metaphysical poets (act. c. 1600–c. 1690), is a label often attached to a loosely connected group of seventeenth-century poets, among whom the central figures are John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Richard Crashaw.

What are the elements of metaphysical poetry in the poems of Donne? ›

Metaphysical poets like John Donne use complex, dramatic expressions and a variety of literary devices like extended conceits, paradoxes, and imagery in colloquial and personal language that challenges ideas of morality, traditional love, and carnality; it is intellectually inventive even jarring sometimes because it ...

What is conceit and examples? ›

Petrarchan. The Petrarchan conceit is a form of love poetry wherein a man's love interest is referred to in hyperbole. For instance, the lover is a ship on a stormy sea, and his mistress is either "a cloud of dark disdain" or the sun.

What is the difference between conceit and metaphysical conceit? ›

The term conceit has two meanings in poetry. A metaphysical conceit is an extended metaphor which creates an unconventional comparison between two very dissimilar things. A Petrarchan conceit is a hyperbolic comparison where the lover is compared to a grand physical object like sun, moon, diamonds, etc.

How John Donne is a metaphysical poet? ›

His poetry is metaphysical because of his individualism and his quest for learning. His poetry is full of wit. It is obscure and it indulges in far fetched conceits. It fuses thought and emotion.

What are the characteristics of a poet? ›

A poet has different personality traits.”
...
I don't write much poetry, but I believe the personality traits of poets and writers are similar…if not exactly the same.
  • Pattern-oriented and rhythmic. ...
  • Protective of their time. ...
  • Internally motivated. ...
  • Creative and curious (absolutely a poet's personality trait!) ...
  • Optimistic. ...
  • Stubborn.
4 Aug 2022

What is metaphysical poetry John Donne? ›

Metaphysical poetry is often characterised by the freshness and energy of its narrative voices. Questions – or interrogatives – are devices that Donne powerfully uses to achieve these qualities. 'The Good Morrow' demonstrates the richness of questioning in Donne's work.

What is the meaning of the word metaphysical? ›

Derived from the Greek meta ta physika ("after the things of nature"); referring to an idea, doctrine, or posited reality outside of human sense perception. In modern philosophical terminology, metaphysics refers to the studies of what cannot be reached through objective studies of material reality.

Who is the father of metaphysical poetry? ›

John Donne was born in 1572 in London, England. He is known as the founder of the Metaphysical Poets, a term created by Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth-century English essayist, poet, and philosopher. The loosely associated group also includes George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and John Cleveland.

What is the metaphysical conceit? ›

The metaphysical conceit, associated with the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century, is a more intricate and intellectual device. It usually sets up an analogy between one entity's spiritual qualities and an object in the physical world and sometimes controls the whole structure of the poem.

Who is the most important poet of metaphysical poetry? ›

Donne (1572–1631) was the most influential Metaphysical poet. His personal relationship with spirituality is at the center of most of his work, and the psychological analysis and sexual realism of his work marked a dramatic departure from traditional, genteel verse.

What are the elements of metaphysical poetry? ›

Metaphysical poems have the elements of metaphors, metaphysical conceits, paradoxes, and analogies. Metaphors and metaphysical conceits, a type of extended metaphor, are used to show a connection between two things that are not similar and to prove the speaker's point in his poem.

Who first used the term metaphysical? ›

It seems that the Scottish writer William Drummond in around 1630 was one of the first to apply the term “metaphysical” to particular poets, but the critic often associated with the seventeenth-century application of the term is John Dryden.

What is metaphysics and example? ›

Metaphysics is a difficult branch of Philosophy, but is rather easy to define: It is the study of the most fundamental concepts and beliefs about them. Examples of metaphysical concepts are Being, Existence, Purpose, Universals, Property, Relation, Causality, Space, Time, Event, and many others.

What is the study of metaphysics? ›

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality.

What is a metaphysical question? ›

When we ask questions about what is real or the nature of reality in general, we are asking metaphysical questions. When philosophers construct theories of reality they are engaged in metaphysics. Some examples of metaphysical questions include the following: What sorts of things are real vs. mere appearances?

What are the main themes of metaphysical poetry? ›

The themes that are most common to metaphysical poetry are love/lust, religion, and morality. Some of the authors who explored these themes were John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan.

How many Metaphysical poets are there? ›

The most important metaphysical poets are John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, and Andrew Marvell. Their work has considerably influenced the poetry of the 20th cent.

When was the metaphysical poetry movement? ›

Metaphysical poets (act. c. 1600–c. 1690), is a label often attached to a loosely connected group of seventeenth-century poets, among whom the central figures are John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Richard Crashaw.

What are the elements of metaphysical poetry in the poems of Donne? ›

Metaphysical poets like John Donne use complex, dramatic expressions and a variety of literary devices like extended conceits, paradoxes, and imagery in colloquial and personal language that challenges ideas of morality, traditional love, and carnality; it is intellectually inventive even jarring sometimes because it ...

What is metaphysical love? ›

The metaphysical definition of love is: “…the psychological force producing a desire to enter into and maintain profound, intimate interpersonal relationship with another person unmitigated by concern for the duration of that relationship.” This type of love has been seen in Greek tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet.

What is an example of conceit? ›

Examples of Conceit in Literature

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

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