METAPHYSICAL POETS & POETRY
METAPHYSICAL POETS & POETRY : The term metaphysical may be applied to any poetry, which deals with spiritual or philosophical matters. But it is limited to the work of a group of poets of seventeenth century. Metaphysical poetry is a revolt against the popular current of the time. Among these poets John Donne is the most notable. Other so-called metaphysical poets were Cleveland, Cowley, Crashaw, Herbert and Vaughan.
METAPHYSICAL POETS & POETRY
In 17th century Dryden in his ‘Discourse’ said that Donne affects the metaphysics. Later on Dr. Johnson borrowed this term from Dryden’s phrase and used it for a group of 17th century poets. Dr. Johnson said, “About the beginning of the 17th century appeared a race of writers that may be termed as metaphysical poets. They were men of learning. To show their learning was their whole endeavour. Their thoughts are often new but seldom natural. The heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.
Important characteristics of metaphysical poetry:
 Delight in novel thoughts and expression: As the Elizabethans played words, the metaphysical played with thoughts. They desired to say something unique and new. They wanted to be singular in their thoughts. They were careless of their diction.
 Fondness for Conceits: Fondness for conceits is the most striking feature of metaphysical poetry. In this poetry we find an abundant use of conceits. Conceit is an instrument to reveal wit. The conceit is a comparison between two unlike objects or thing. It is a far-fetched comparison.
 Obscurity: Obscurity is one of the important features of the metaphysical poetry. In this poetry we find obscurity and vagueness of subject. The metaphysical poets frequently combine dissimilar ideas. Thus their poetry is harsh, obscure and puzzling.
 Learning: The metaphysical poets were men of learning. Their poetry reveals their scholarship. To show learning is their chief object. They twisted their vast learning in their poetry. Due to this metaphysical poetry became very difficult to understand.
 Wit: Wit is one of the important features of metaphysical poetry. Passion, sentiment and sensuality are subordinated to wit. The heterogeneous material is compelled into unity by the rapid association of thoughts.
 Religious and amorous: Metaphysical poetry may be classified into two broad divisions of amorous and religious verse. The former was written by Carew and Suckling and the latter by Herbert, Crashaw and Vaughan.
MAJOR METAPHYSICAL POETS
 John Donne: John Donne was the founder of metaphysical school of poetry. He is the greatest poet of this school. His works include Satires, Songs and Sonnets and Elegies. His poetry falls into three divisions – amorous poetry, religious poems and satirical poems. His love poems are subtle analysis of all the moods of a lover. His religious poems are confessions or prayers. His satirical poems reveal his cynical nature and critical mind.
 George Herbert: Of all the metaphysical poets Herbert is the most widely read. The Temple reveals his religious zeal. His treatment of religious themes has the simple, unstudied earnestness of Longfellow. The spirit of the age and humour are the important features of his poetry. He was a lover of humanity also.
 Richard Crawshaw: His best work is ‘Steps to The Temple’. Some of his poems are secular but he is at his best in his religious poems. To him religion meant everything. His poetry is mainly lyrical.
 Henry Vaughan: His important works are Olor Iscanus, Silex Scintillans and Thalia Rediviva. Like Crawshaw, he was a mystic. He was more at home in sacred than in secular verse. His poems reveal his good intellectual power and originality.
 Thomas Carew: His poems show his undoubted lyrical ability. He is neither obscure nor uncouth. All his poetry is the work of an amorist. As a lyric poet he is the first of his age.
 Abraham Cowely: Cowely was a man of versatile literary interest. He wrote poems, plays, essays and histories. His well-known poems are The Mistress, and The Pindaric Odes. His lyrics are often sweet and graceful.
 Andrew Marvell: His notable poems are Garden, Upon the Hill, The Gallery, and To His Coy Mistress. They deal with the theme of nature, love and patriotism. They are the finest flowers of serious and secular verse. His work has the subtlety of wit. His rhythms are flexible and his melody delicate.
Read it also: Shakespeare’s King Lear
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