Metaphysical Poetry (4 Example Poems)

What is Metaphysical Poetry?

Metaphysical poetry is a type of poetry that developed in the 17th century. The term focuses on the intrigue subjects like love, religion and existence. The word “metaphysical” means the abstract and theoretical ideas. Metaphysical poets are known for their use of comparisons, contradictions and deep meanings in the poems. Their work often challenges the views of the people from their time.

The term “Metaphysical” was in fact coined quite disparagingly by the poet Samuel Johnson, who criticized as to how the poets of his time were more keen in using the wit, puns, and far-fetched conceits than making poetry. Subsequently, over time, the characteristics of metaphysical poetry have been differentiated and valued. Poets that were associated with this movement include John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew marvel and Henry Vaughan.

Characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry

Metaphysical poetry is distinguished by several defining characteristics:

1- Intellectual and Philosophical Themes

Metaphysical poets are concerned with preoccupations, which are divine, spiritual and existential in nature and include those of the existence, love, soul etc. Their poetry is definitely marked by themes that show concern with issues that are scientific, philosophical and theological especially of the time of writing.

2- Use of Conceits

A conceit is an elaborate and witty comparison between two objects, that are entirely unrelated. Metaphysical conceits are characterized by their wit and complexity and they also involved surprising comparisons.

3- Paradoxes and Irony

Paradoxical statements and irony expressions are often used as primary tools to deliver the readers and spectators to the understanding of multiple antinomies in life and human character. These devices force the readers to change their mentality and approach the issues in a different manner.

4- Wit and Wordplay

Metaphysical poetry is the use of language including puns, word play and humor. This wit is used to capture the attention of the readers and extend meanings of the poems in an interesting way.

5- Elaborate Imagery

Conventional and precise are two words that could aptly be used to describe the metaphysical poetry including its imagery. This way Science, Religion and many other sources become the base for poets to build up their extremely brilliant imaginations.

6- Personal and Reflective Tone

Metaphysical poems are deeply personal. They reveal the thoughts of the poem, feelings and experiences. The contemplative quality adds an emotional intensity to their work.

7- Structured Forms and Versification

While metaphysical poets experimented with form and meter, their poems often exhibit a high degree of technical skill. They employed structured forms and precise versification to enhance the intellectual and aesthetic impact of their work.

Metaphysical Examples in Poetry

1. John Donne

John Donne is a renowned metaphysical poet. His works are famous for the use of extended metaphors and to delve into intricate themes. “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” one of his most celebrated pieces. It reflects many typical elements of metaphysical poetry.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
Now his breath goes, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.“`

In this poem, the author employs the metaphor of a compass to show the strong, long-lasting bond between him and his wife.

Here, the word compass has been used as a metaphor to show the love of the couple. The compass is one foot fixed and the other foot moving around.

It indicates that the love between the couple is unchanging just like the compass fixed foot. There is an other understanding of the poem that the love between the couple grow stronger instead of the distance between them.

2. George Herbert

The poetry of the writer explores his extensive religious belief. It points out the themes of divine love and restoration.

The poem “The Collar” is a fanciful example of the metaphysical poetry, which reflects the contemplative and meditative nature.

“The Collar”

I struck the board, and cried, “No more;
I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it,
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.”
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Methoughts I heard one calling, Child!
And I replied, My Lord.“`

The poem encapsulates the inner struggle of the worldly desires of the speaker and his spiritual loyalty. The structure of the poem reflects the emotional turbulence of the speaker with sudden moves in the tone and the fragmented lines. The poem ends with Herbert recognizing call of the God, which shows his deep faith.

3. Andrew Marvell

The poetry of Andrew Marvell is the combination of the political and philosophical themes. His poems reflects the impressive and imaginative imagery. The poem “To His Coy Mistress” is a significant example of the metaphysical poetry, which inspects the time and love.

“To His Coy Mistress”

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

The poem embodies the idea of passing the time quickly. It encourages the mistress of the speaker to enjoy their love. The use of images in the poem, like “time’s winged chariot” and “deserts of vast eternity” reflects the importance and strength of their feelings.

4. Henry Vaughan

“The World”

I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;

And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit’s sour delights,
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow’r.

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,
He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursu’d him with one shout.
Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work’d under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see
That policy;
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries
Were gnats and flies;
It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sat pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves.
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg’d each one his pelf;
The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense,
And scorn’d pretence;
While others, slipp’d into a wide excess
Said little less;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave;
And poor, despised Truth sat counting by
Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring;
But most would use no wing.
O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night
Before true light,
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way,
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God,
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he.
But as I did their madnes so discuss
One whisper’d thus,
This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for his bride.

The author explores permanency as a “great ring of pure and endless light”. He contrasts it with the temporary and misconceived activities of the human beings. The use of evocative imagery and introspective tone of the poem persuades the readers to explore the nature of existence and the pursuit of spiritual accomplishment.

Metaphysical poetry remains as arbitrary and stimulating type of poem that challenges and affects readers up to date due to various and innovative concepts presented in this type of poetry. With regard to love, religion, and existence, the themes all of which deal with metaphysical poets invite the reader into a critical thinking perspective and make the reader contemplate on life mysteries engendered by poets.

Metaphysical poetry remains a powerful evidence of the capabilities of conveying the questions that answer the inquiries about the meaning of the existence and the truths that give meaning to human existence.

See also: Literary Devices That Start With M

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *