General Ideas:

The term "Metaphysical" applied to Donne and his followers was actually a derisive label by Drummond of Hawthorneden. Later Samuel Johnson fixed the term to Donne, et al., in his Life of Cowley, calling them "men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavor."


Metaphysical Poetry attempts to synthesize passion and intellect in an obscure fashion by:

$        blending "New Science" with non-Petrarchan passion

$        using colloquial language with far-fetched metaphors (conceits)

$        employing meditative refinement with violent realism.


$        Vivid, abrupt speech patterns instead of Elizabethan smoothness

$        Verse has a jerkiness with its unexpected pauses, stresses, temposB

$        Conceits that refer to physiology, astronomy, alchemy, chemistry, geography, biology (science allusions). A revolt against traditional, stylized images of the Spenser-Sidney type, but sometimes gross and "unpoetic"--snoring, beds, weaning children, body moles, fleas.

$        Startling imagery that links incongruous objects. "yoking together heterogeneous [as opposed to homogeneous] ideas by violence."

$        Melancholy in love and religion, in contrast to the Elizabethans' optimism and exuberance -- a preoccupation with the pain and anguish of love and faith. (Donne is perhaps the most morbid of major English poets.)

$        Pervasive atmosphere of a world disrupted and confused. The sane, ordered world of the Elizabethans ("The Great Chain of Being") have given over to chaos

$        "Unified sensibility" (T. S. Eliot)--their best works fuse sensation, emotion, and thought. Later poets "dissociated."

$        Metaphysical Metaphors: complex, startling, and highly intellectual analogies are made.



Chief Poets: Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Edward Taylor (American)