The word “metaphysical” literally means something which is concerned with the fundamental problems of the nature of the universe and human’s place in it. The literal meaning of the word can be misleading. The metaphysical poets were in a certain sense diverse but they were the reflection of the intellectual and spiritual crisis of the period between the Renaissance and the Modern age. The poet was expected to be both sensitive and clever, to make unusual metaphors arranged in a creative way in order to surprise the reader. Frequent were the references to religious debates, alchemy, astrology and philosophy. Characteristics of this kind of poetry were:
- the repeated combination of metaphysical elements and “conceits” (unconventional types of similes or metaphors);
- paradoxes and epigrammatic conciseness;
- a generalized sense of questioning;
- the element of drama; in most poems the dramatic feature is immediately apparent from the opening lines (opening in “medias rei”);
- the richness and variety of diction; the poets often used words both from Latin and Anglo-Saxon origin;
- the different verse forms.
The metaphysical poets were largely forgotten in the 18th century but they were revived by the literary works of T.S. Eliot in modern times.