The Metaphysical Poetry

The Metaphysical Poetry: Definition, Characteristics & Examples

Metaphysical Poetry : Metaphysical poetry is not considered a genre of poetry, but rather poetry that shares common characteristics like large doses of wit and pondering serious questions with humor.

The Metaphysical Poetry

Discover more literary characteristics of metaphysical poetry (including paradoxes, puns, and conceits), and examples of metaphysical poets including John Donne, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell.

Definition of Metaphysical Poetry

You’ve probably heard of haikus, lyrical poems and limericks. All of those types of poetry have specific qualities that allow us to group them together. Metaphysical poetry is a little bit different. The poems classified in this group do share common characteristics: they are all highly intellectualized, use rather strange imagery, use frequent paradox and contain extremely complicated thought.

However, metaphysical poetry is not regarded as a genre of poetry. In fact, the main poets of this group didn’t read each other’s work and didn’t know that they were even part of a classification.

Literary critic and poet Samuel Johnson first coined the term ‘metaphysical poetry’ in his book Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1179-1781). In the book, Johnson wrote about a group of 17th-century British poets that included John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell and Henry Vaughan. He noted how the poets shared many common characteristics, especially ones of wit and elaborate style.

What Does Metaphysical Mean?

The word ‘meta’ means ‘after,’ so the literal translation of ‘metaphysical’ is ‘after the physical.’ Basically, metaphysics deals with questions that can’t be explained by science. It questions the nature of reality in a philosophical way.

Here are some common metaphysical questions:

  1. Does God exist?
  2. Is there a difference between the way things appear to us and the way they really are? Essentially, what is the difference between reality and perception?
  3. Is everything that happens already predetermined? If so, then is free choice non-existent?
  4. Is consciousness limited to the brain?

Metaphysics can cover a broad range of topics from religious to consciousness; however, all the questions about metaphysics ponder the nature of reality. And of course, there is no one correct answer to any of these questions. Metaphysics is about exploration and philosophy, not about science and math.


The group of metaphysical poets that we mentioned earlier is obviously not the only poets or philosophers or writers that deal with metaphysical questions. There are other more specific characteristics that prompted Johnson to place the 17th-century poets together.

Perhaps the most common characteristic is that metaphysical poetry contained large doses of wit. In fact, although the poets were examining serious questions about the existence of God or whether a human could possibly perceive the world, the poets were sure to ponder those questions with humor.

Metaphysical poetry also sought to shock the reader and wake him or her up from his or her normal existence in order to question the unquestionable. The poetry often mixed ordinary speech with paradoxes and puns. The results were strange, comparing unlikely things, such as lovers to a compass or the soul to a drop of dew. These weird comparisons were called conceits.

Metaphysical poetry also explored a few common themes. They all had a religious sentiment. In addition, many of the poems explored the theme of carpe diem (seize the day) and investigated the humanity of life.

One great way to analyze metaphysical poetry is to consider how the poems are about both thought and feeling. Think about it. How could you possibly write a poem about the existence of God if you didn’t have some emotional reaction to such an enormous, life-altering question?

 The Metaphysical Poets

The end of the Elizabethan age saw a new development of the poetic language which reached the maturity in the 17th century. Of there the most remarkable is the metaphysical poet. The poets were addicted to witty conceit and far-fetched image. The poets were rebel not in their attitude to their poetic style, but the new scientific and philosophical.

The metaphysical poet introduces new ideas and experiences to heighten or intensify the effects. We find a remarkable fusion of thoughts and feelings. The images suggested by the metaphysical poets are often strength. They are usually the product and unnatural combination of dissimilar ideas. Metaphysical poets were men of learning. They combine reasons and emotion together with much excellence.


JOHN DONNE (1573-1631) was the leader of the metaphysical school of poets. He broke away from the Elizabethan tradition of writing verse and introduced all together a different style. He composed poems on love and religious with usual perfection. He wrote chiefly satire, amorous and religious poems. John Donne gave new direction to English poetry. Among the amorous poems which belong to his youth the more notable are: The Extasie, The Sun Rising, The Blossom and The Funeral. The best known poems are Good Friday and To God the Father and To God. His treatment of love was un-orthodox but his religious poems were sober and sometimes to metaphysical for common understanding.


GEORGE HERBERT (1593-1633) is one of the great metaphysical poets. He was a clergyman and he was called the saint of the metaphysical school of poets. He wrote “The Temple” consist of 160 poems. Among the more popular poems of the collection are Virtue, The Pulley and The Collar. Quite obviously, his expression is free from ambiguity.


HENRY VAUGHAN (1622-1695) is the best known for his sacred verse published under the title silen. The Retreat is one of the memorable poem of Vaughan. This poem anticipates the central theme of words with immortality. His other great poems are Departed Friends. He is interested more in life before birth and life after death, then in life on earth. In this sense only he is a metaphysical otherwise his poems are very simple and plain.


ROBERT HERRICK was also a clergyman and love of the country side. He wrote religious and natural poetry, his principal collection of words Hesperidia which contain religious section called noble numbers. To Daffodils and To Blossoms are the unforgettable lyrics of ROBERT HERRICK. He says” how things have their end”. The notable feature of his poetry easy grace and the clarity of expression.


THOMAS CAREW also made a mark as a great metaphysical poet. His lyrics are heighten to remember, To My Inconstant Mistress and Disdain Returned are his important lyrics. The metaphysical features a bound in his poems.

In brief metaphysical poetry is a new style of writing poetry. This style is quite new, novel and different from the Elizabethan writings. The poets of this school composed poems on love, religions and nature. In metaphysical poetry music, melody is missing, but it is surfeit with argumentative and scientific images.

 Read it also:  Biography of Ben Jonson

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