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. The most common characteristic is that metaphysical poetry contained large doses of wit. Although the poets were examining serious questions about the existence of god or whether a human could perceive the world, the poets were sure to ponder those questions with humor. In addition, many of the poems explored the theme or carpe diem(seize the day) and investigated the humanity of life.
Delight in novel thought and expression The metaphysical poet deligthed in novel thoughts and expression. As Scott said, they played with thoughts. There is a fusion of passionate feelings and thought in their poems. Instead of the Elizabethan splendor of sound and imagery, the metaphysical employed subtlety of thought and verbal fancies.
conceit Metaphysical poetry uses conceit. A conceit is a far-fetched simile, an ingenious parallel between two highly dissimilar things. It is the ingenuity of a conceit rather than its justness that invites the reader’s attention. A metaphysical conceit is used to prove or define a point. In ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’, Donne compares two lovers to the two legs of a compass. In ‘The Ecstay’ he compares the eye beams of the lovers to a twisted thread that connects the lover’s eyes. This is exemplified in Cowley’s comparison of the experience of loving different women with traveling through different countries.
Concentration Metaphysical poetry is noted for its concentration. The reader is not allowed to pause and muse over the poem; he is required to pay attention and read on. A metaphysical poem tends to be brief. Words and thoughts are compressed. Length of line and rhyme scheme enforces the sense. Hence the reader is expected to concentrate.
Affectation, Hyperbole and Obscurity Metaphysical poetry is characterised by affectation and hyperbole, and occasional obscurity. The metaphysical poets had the license to say something unexpected and surprising. Their fancy and amplifications have no limit. In the task of finding verbal equivalents for their thoughts and feelings, the metaphysical poets often become obscure. As Dr. Johnson said, dissimilar ideas are yoked by violence together leading to obscurity. In Donne’s A Valediction of Weeping’, the use of geographical conceits makes it a little difficult to understand.
Argument and persuasion Argument and persuasion are two of the elements of a metaphysical poem. Every poem two is based on the memory of the experience. A need to argue arises out of it. The argument is done with help of conceit and dramatic presentation of thought and feelings.
The Scholarship of author Metaphysical poetry shows the scholarship of its authors. As Dr. Johnson pointed out they drew their similes and conceit from the recesses of learning unfamiliar to an average reader. The poems of Donne, Marvell, and Cowley especially show their vast learning in philosophy, literature, science, astronomy, and geography.
Love Metaphysical poetry includes the most impassioned love poetry in English. Donne’s poems like ‘The Anniversarie’, ‘The Good Morrow’, ‘The Canonisation’ and ‘The Extasie’ are love poems that raise the great metaphysical question of the relation of the spirit to the senses. Similarly is Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’. Some of the finest religious poems in English are also metaphysical poems. The poems of Herbert, Vaughan, and Marvell are examples.