John Donne as a metaphysical poet

John Donne as a metaphysical poet

John Donne as a metaphysical poet : The main aspects of the Metaphysical poetry are: Passionate thinking, Philosophical concept of the universe and ordinary experiences, obscurity and learning, unified sensibility, conceits and images, Affectation and Hyperbole, Diction and versification and excessive intellectualism.

John Donne as a metaphysical poet


Dryden expressed the view that “Donne affects the metaphysics” taking his cue from this statement, Dr. Johnson described Donne and his followers as the metaphysical poets. Ben Johnson followed classical rules and being a classicist, was a champion of decorum, discipline, symmetry and regularity, so he was not in favor of the bold liberty taken up by Donne.

But he appreciated Donne as well for revolting against Petrarchan Conventions. According to Dr. Johnson, the metaphysical poets were men of learning; the displayed an abundance of wit, if will be defined as a combination of dissimilar ideas. They ransacked nature and art for illustrations, comparisons and allusions. Johnson used the word, Metaphysical for Donne’s poetry in a rather contemptuous sense, even though much of what is said applies to Donne’s work.

The wit of a metaphysical poet is more intellectual than that of the Elizabethan poets in general. his conceits are psychological, his lyrics are argumentative but the greatest achievement of a metaphysical poet is a blend of passion and thought. Intense emotional intellectuality is a leading quality of a metaphysical verse. In brief, the term, “Metaphysical Poetry” implies the qualities of complexity, fusion of emotions, outburst of passions and emotional intellectuality and an embodiment of reflective elements.

Qualities of Donne (‘s poetry) as a poet:

 Intellect and wit are the two prime qualities of a metaphysical poet. The poet interweaves these two elements with its emotional effects. Donne was a classical representative of this kind of poetry. He was a man whose instinct compelled him to bring the whole of experience into his verse. When we speak of Donne as a metaphysical poet, we generally have in mind the combination of passion and thought which characterize his work. His conceits are witty, his hyperboles are outrageous and his paradoxes astonishing. His mixes fact and fancy in an astounding manner. All these qualities need to be illustrated from his poems.

 The Good-Marrow is a poem of passion, but its intellectual quality is less obvious. The poem proves that the poet and the beloved are passionately in love. Each one is a world to the other. These lovers can never die because they love each other with equal intensity. Donne was the first poet who included thought and idea in poetry side by side as opposed to the Elizabethans. Originality in diction marks Donne’s poetry. He used scientific, technical as well as colloquial vocabulary. He rejected the conventional Petrarchan conceits and coined new images. His vocabulary is rich and diversified. He is the first poet who has delineated ecstatic joy of fulfilled love in the Sun Rising. We see originality, novelty and complexity so abundant no where but in Donne’s poetry.

John Donne as a metaphysical poet

The main aspects of the Metaphysical poetry are: Passionate thinking, Philosophical concept of the universe and ordinary experiences, obscurity and learning, unified sensibility, conceits and images, Affectation and Hyperbole, Diction and versification and excessive intellectualism. All these features of metaphysical poetry are abundant in Donne’s poetry for which he is labeled as a metaphysical poet.

Donne is a metaphysical poet in a literal sense too. He speaks of the soul and of spiritual love. Air and Angles is a metaphysical poem in this sense. In A Valediction and Forbidding Mourning, the poet speaks of the spiritual love. The love is so refined that the lovers do not much miss each other’s eyes, lips and hands which lovers normally seek. In the Relic, they do not even know the difference of sex.

Donne deserves the title, Metaphysical also because of his obscurity which is sometimes terrible. His concentration, expanded epigrams, fondness for conceits and striking and subtle wit, combination of passion and thought, the use of common language and the profundity of thought and intensity are the qualities that make Donne a metaphysical poet.

Selected Love Poems for Analysis

The Good-morrow:

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears

Where can we finde two better hemispheres

If our two loves be one, or thou or I

Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die

Synopsis: One of the finest poems of Donne explaining the complex nature of love. Initially, it has an element of fun and sex but later it provides a complete world to the lovers and this pure love is neither subject to time nor death.


Goe, and catche a falling star,

Get with child a mandrake roote,

Synopsis: the poet, through a series of images, proves to show that it is impossible to find a true and faithful woman in the world as it is equally impossible to produce a child from a mandrake root. Petrarchan and Elizabethan poets honored woman as the heroine and goddess, but the metaphysical poets mocked at them. Frailty, thy name is woman was quite popular in Donne’s time.   

The Sun Rising:

I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,

But that I would not lose her sight so long:

She is all States, and all Princes, I,

Nothing else is.

Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,

Nor houres, dayes, monthes, which are the rages of time.

Synopsis: This shows a lover’s vexation against sun-rising. The dawn is regarded as impertinence between the two lovers. The supremacy of love surpasses both time and space. I can blow out the sun with a wink but I don’t want to avert my attention from my lover even for this short duration. My sweetheart is all the states of the world rolled into one and I am all the princes of the world rolled into one. There are no states and princes except those described by me.

Aire and Angels:

Twice or thrice had I loved thee,

Before I knew thy face or name;

So in a voice, so in a shaplesse flame

Angells affect us oft, and worship’d bee

Synopsis: This is a poem of love and has little to do with air and angles. The poet is fed up with the Platonic idea of love – love as something holy and spiritual. The poem is an address of the poet to his beloved. I had loved you twice or thrive in spirit before I saw your face or knew your name. Just as angels are recognized through their voice or through a ball of fire and then worshipped in the same way.

The Extasie

But as all severall soules containe ,

Love, these mix souls, doth mixe againe,

Synopsis:  It is love that brings two souls together and mixes them into one while in reality they are two separate human existences. It is a complex and metaphysical poem dealing with the twin aspects of love physical and spiritual. What is Extasie? It is a state in which the soul comes out of the body and has communication with God.

The Relicque

First we lov’d well and faithfully,

Yet knew not what wee lov’d, nor why

Difference of sex no more we knew

Synopsis:  We loved totally and faithfully without knowing why we liked each other. We didn’t regard sex as the object of our love. Our love was pure and clean like those of angels.

Read it also:  Donne as a love poet

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