Metaphysical poetry is a genre of poetry that deals with deep spirituality, religion, etc. It is a highly intellectual form of poetry and presents the world to its readers in a different way. It asks questions that science can not answer. Metaphysical poetry prompts the readers to question their reality and existence. The word “Meta” means “After” so the literal translation of metaphysical is ‘After the Physical’. Basically, metaphysics deals with questions that can’t be explained by science. Such as –
- Does God exist?
- Is the soul eternal?
- Is fate real?
- Is our world real or a projection?
- Is everything that happens already predetermined?
Some Characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry
- Metaphysical poetry talks about deep things, such as – Love, Soul, religion, etc.
- The most important characteristic of Metaphysical poetry is the combination of feelings and thoughts.
- Another characteristic of such poetry is that it is unclear. Every person will take something different out of the same poem based on their belief and understanding.
- The unusual comparison of things in poetry is one of its unique and most intreating characteristics.
- Another unique feature of this poetry is platonic love. It is non-romantic. It is spiritual love and is mainly for God.
In the book “Lives of the most Eminent English poet”, the author ‘Samuel Johnson’ made the first use of the word “Metaphysical Poetry”. He used the term Metaphysical poets to define a group of poets of the 17th century. This group’s most prominent poets include:
- John Donne
- George Herbert
- Andrew Marvel
- Henry Vaughan
- Abraham Cowley
Donne was the most influential metaphysical poet. Most of his work centered around his personal relationship with spirituality. Donne’s Poem “The Good Morrow” uses wit or conceits in comparing the unconscious lovers and the seven sleepers who slept for two hundred years, between two lovers and two hemispheres. These odd comparisons are a signature characteristic of metaphysical poetry. Some of his metaphysical poetry include – The Flea, The Sun Rising, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning and Death Be Not Proud.
George Herbert is the name that follows next to Donne. None of his poems were published during his lifetime. He is the saint of the Metaphysical School. Professor Palmer says about him “Herbert the first in English Poetry who spoke face to face with God.” Some of the great metaphysical poetry by Herbert are – The Collar, The Pulley, Easter Wings, and The Temple consist of over one hundred fifty poems.
Andrew Marvell was a puritan Songster. In Marvell’s most recognized love poem “To His Coy Mistress” we see how the poet uses wit in its full force. His another poem that is included in Metaphysical poetry is – Winter Tale, Gallery, The Nymph, The Definition of Love, and Upon Appleton House
Henry Vaughan was also a Metaphysical poet. He is perhaps the only 17th-century poet who was scorned in his early career but who was widely esteemed in his later life. He wrote “Selix Scintillans” which is a famous metaphysical poem.
Johnson’s assessment of “metaphysical poetry” was not at all flattering:
The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and, to show their learning was their whole endeavor; but, unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses, and, very often, such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables… The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.
Thus, Metaphysical poetry is to be read with an open mind. It is not purposely trying to convince readers to think in a certain way but it provides a new way of thinking. Besides these above-mentioned poets, there are several minor Metaphysical Poets such as – Richard Crashaw, Abraham Cowley, Richard Leigh, and several others. English Literature is highly indebted to these above-mentioned Metaphysical poets and their poetry.