The Metaphysical School of poetry

The term ‘metaphysical’ was first applied to Donne by Dryden and later extended to a group of poets by Dr. Johnson. It has been used to describe the special characteristics of the poetry of John Donne and his followers in the 17th century. John Dryden first used this term in connections to the poetry of John Donne and the same was confirmed by Dr. Samuel Johnson. At the beginning of the 17th century, there appeared a group of poets who reacted against the conventions of Elizabethan love poetry and wrote more colloquial, witty, passionately intense, and psychologically probing poetry. This group came to known as the metaphysical poets. They include John Donne, Andrew Marvell, George Herbert, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughan. They were men of learning, but wrote colloquial and often metrically irregular lines filled with unusual metaphors, similes, and conceits.

Dr. Samuel Johnson

Dr. Johnson thought that from the Aristotelian point of view they were not poets at all. Though their learning and subtlely were high, they were wholly concerned with something unexpected and surprising. Johnson says that their attempts were analytic and they broke every image into fragments. “The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions”. Dr. Johnson was certainly not impressed by them. However, T.S. Eliot in the present century discovers several beauties in the metaphyscial. He sees in their Poetry “a direct sensuous apprehension of thought, or a recreation or thought into feeling”. Eliot places them in the direct current of English poetry and points to their ‘quaint and pleasant taste’.

John Donne, Founder of Metaphysical poetry

The metaphysical style was established by John Donne. Dryden pointed out that Donne ‘affects the metaphysics not only in his satires but in his amorous verses’. Donne inspired a host of others like Suckling, Cleveland, Crashaw, and Cowley.

Metaphysical poetry resolves itself into two broad divisions amorous verse and religious verse. The amorous verse was generally written by the courtly poets like Carew, Suckling, and Lovelace and religious verse by Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan. Donne wrote amorous, devotional, and satirical poems. In his poetry sensuality and cynical wit mingle at times. He excelled in reflective imaginations and sober meditation. Herrick wrote amorous and religious verses and several epigrams. Crashaw was best in his religious verse. Abraham Cowley’s lyrics were sweet and graceful.

In conclusion, the age of metaphysical poetry successfully presented great educational benefits and presented significant value to English literature. The significance of this age is quite clear as it presented new aspects of value and new methods of expression that were not known before the seventeenth century, the language and concepts used in metaphysical poetry are unique and present significant cleverness. It also focuses on driving the audience to imagine what they have not thought of before and capture their imaginations. Most metaphysical poets suffered from different struggles, but the one they almost all had in common was self anxiety, presented in the fear of the future of the human soul, which is what lead them to speak and express their thoughts on the journey of life and turning points. Also, most of the metaphysical poets were born in the seventeenth century and raised into religious families and therefore carried out a religious mindset, and some of them even held religious positions during his lifetime, which explains the majority of religious poetry over other types of poetry, other topics such as love was also present, and it shared the common point of desiring reciprocity results whether from God or the loved one.

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