Metaphysical PoetryMid-16th century – Mid-17th century
Definition of “metaphysical”: concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth designating or pertaining to the poetry of an early group of 17th-century English poets, notably John Donne, whose characteristic style is highly intellectual and philosophical and features intensive use of ingenious conceits and turns of wit
John Donne (1572-1631) His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and immediacy of metaphor, compared with that of his contemporaries. Donnes earliest poems showed a brilliant knowledge of English society coupled with sharp criticism of its problems. His satires dealt with common Elizabethan topics, such as corruption in the legal system, mediocre poets, and pompous courtiers, yet stand out due to their intellectual sophistication and striking imagery.
Holy Sonnet X by John Donne Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;For those, whom thou thinkst thou dost overthrow, Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.Thourt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well, And better than thy stroke ; why swellst thou then ? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more ; Death, thou shalt die.
John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets”•The Holy Sonnets (also known as DivineMeditations or Divine Sonnets) are a series of nineteenpoems. Never published during Donne’s lifetime but widelycirculated in manuscript, they have become some of Donnesmost popular poems. Most of them are written in thePetrarchan (Italian) sonnet form, rather than the morerestrictive Shakespearean (English) sonnet form.•They were composed between 1609 and 1610, in a period ofgreat personal distress for Donne, with physical, emotional,and financial hardship, as well as religious turmoil:originally a Roman Catholic, Donne did not officially jointhe Anglican Church until 1615. The Holy Sonnets reflectthese anxieties.
John Donne (1572-1631) John Donne is considered a master of the conceit, an extended metaphor that combines two vastly unlike ideas into a single idea, often using imagery. Unlike the conceits found in other Elizabethan poetry, most notably Petrarchan conceits, which formed clichéd comparisons between more closely related objects (such as a rose and love), Metaphysical conceits go to a greater depth in comparing two completely unlike objects. Donne’s poetry is often ironic and cynical. His most common subjects were love, death, and religion.
So what exactly is a “conceit”? An elaborate, exaggerated metaphor, usually strained or far-fetched in nature, comparing two incredibly dissimilar things. When the stanza of a poem contains a conceit, the stanza itself can be called a “conceit,” as with the octet in Donne’s Holy Sonnet #6.