Metaphysical poetryThe phrase “Metaphysical poetry” derives from the scornful remarks of some Restoration and 18th century critics. The Metaphysical poets, who wrote during the first three quarters of the 17th century were led by John Donne.
They reflected the intellectual and spiritual crisis of their age, the difficult transition from the Renaissance to the modern age. The poet was expected to be a man of wit, displaying not only his sensitivity but also his knowledge and cleverness.
Wit was the ability to make up unusual metaphors and images and arrange them in an unexpected way so as to surprise the reader.
The unusual feature of Metaphysical poetry is the repeated combination of these “metaphysical elements” with that particular type of metaphor called “conceit”.
“Paradox” and “epigrammatic conciseness” are a strength of Metaphysical poetry just as much as the element of drama. Donne uses the words and the rhythms which common people were using.
The language of Metaphysical poets was rich and varied. Latinisms and words of Anglo Saxon origin were both used.
The shape of the poem: poems may consist of verses, that is, divisions in the poem marked by a line-space; some poems are divided into stanzas, that is, verses repeating the same pattern, and each line begins with a capital letter.
The conceit: it is a comparison between two objects which at first glance seem to have nothing in common.
The paradox: a paradox is a statement which is apparently contradictory though in some sense true.