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The Characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry. Metaphysical Poetry

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The Characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry


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    1. The Characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry Metaphysical Poetry • Metaphysics: the branch of philosophy that systematically investigates the nature of first principles and the problems of ultimate reality: it includes the study of being (ontology) and the study of the structure of the universe (cosmology).

    2. The term was applied 100 years later, by Dr Johnson, who used it rather disparagingly, to describe certain poets whom he regarded as addicted to ‘witty conceits’ (comparisons) and far fetched imagery. In a poetic context, the term was first applied to a group of 17th century poets, including Donne, but has since come to mean poetry which expresses emotion in an intellectual context.

    3. Chief characteristics of Metaphysical poetry: • Colloquial diction • inventive use of structure and form • Variety of tone – often within one poem • Poets speak in their own persona or create dramatically different characters and situations: self-dramatization, internal dramatic conflict. • Opening lines often direct and startling.

    4. Use of argument and logic within a poem –often intellectually ingenious • Original and startling metaphors and similes, often extended into conceits • Concentrated meaning – poems are usually short, dense with meaning and finely crafted • Sensuousness, directness, immediacy • Often appealing to an intellectual and well educated audience

    5. Metaphysical Poetry Consider these essential features of metaphysical poetry and how they are shown here: • Intricate arguments • Use of paradox (ie an apparently self-contradictory statement ‘Death, thou shalt die’ – showing wit!) • Puns and word play • Hyperbole • Intertextual references and analogies drawn from other areas of learning • Moving between strict (often iambic) rhythms and regular metres • The patterns of colloquial speech • Arresting openings • The metaphysical ‘conceit’ – a strongly maintained metaphor that creates an unusual comparison between two things. (Samuel Johnson did not approve – he called Donne’s conceits “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked together by violence’ and said Donne’s ‘Thoughts (are) often new, but seldom natural”)