Metaphysical Poetry

Metaphysical poerty - JohnDonneMetaphysical Poetry has been one of the most unique genres in English Literature owing to a number of aspects. All the major features of this kind of poetry were so unique that even some terms have been derived to point exclusively towards these aspects.

The term ‘Metaphysical poets’ is believed to be coined by Samuel Johnson. He used the term for a particular group of English lyric poets identifying some particular aspects common to the poems of all of them. He had used the term rather casually but the term got permanently associated to the poets like John Donne, Andrew Marvel, Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw, and George Herbert.  One of the major aspects of their poems that called for the term ‘metaphysical’ were the use of exceptional way of comparing highly unlike concepts.  Similarly, most of their poems were concerned to platonic love and religion both of which are considered to be the themes from ‘beyond the physical world’.

Metaphysical Poerty - Andrew MarvellSome terms that developed strong link to metaphysical poems are wit, conceit, Discordia Concors and Neo-Platonism. The metaphysical poets were men of learning and were quite fond of showing off their learning. They employed their wit in their poems. Some critics have gone to the extent of stating that their poetry is merely an extravagant expression of their knowledge in lyrical manner. The device they employed for showing their wit is conceit, i.e. unusual similes and metaphors. For instance, at many instances, these poets have used their knowledge of geography, astrology, science, etc. to express feelings of lovers and devotees. Discordia Concors refers to the presentation of dissimilar images together. John Donne has compared two lovers to the two legs of compass at one point which is quite a unique comparison. However, the achievement of these poets lies in their capabilities to make such far-fetched similes and metaphors very clear. Donne, for example, makes it very clear why he has mentioned a compass in concern to two lovers getting separated from one another.

Their poetry did not follow the usual trends of the contemporary times. The trend was to base poems on nature or allusions from mythology. Love and religion, however, were the main themes they dealt with.Metaphysical poerty - Abraham Cowley

This movement was unique in this sense as well that the metaphysical poets in the 17th century were not consciously following the tendencies of this movement to be part of it. they were creating poetry independently from one another’s influence.

Multiple Choice Questions on Metaphysical Poetry

1. Who coined the term ‘Metaphysical Poets’?

  1. John Dryden
  2. Samuel Johnson
  3. John Donne
  4. Andrew Marvell

2. Which one is false about metaphysical poets?

  1. They were lyric poets.
  2. They belonged to 17th century
  3. The term was coined by Dr. Johnson
  4. They wrote basically about Nature.

3. In which work did Samuel Johnson use the term ‘Metaphysical Poets’?

  1. Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets
  2. The Patriot
  3. Plan for a Dictionary of the English Language
  4. The Literary Magazine

4. Which poet was the chapter of ‘Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets’ based on in which the term ‘Metaphysical Poets’ was used by Samuel Johnson?

  1. Abraham Cowley
  2. John Donne
  3. Andrew Marvell
  4. Henry Vaughan

5. Who said about John Donne, “He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign…”?

  1. Samuel Johnson
  2. John Dryden
  3. Andrew Marvell
  4. Henry Vaughan

6. How is Drummond of Hawthornden associated to ‘Metaphysical Poets’?

  1. He was the first poet to be identified as a metaphysical poet
  2. He is considered responsible for introducing metaphysical elements to prayers
  3. He is considered to be the only writer before Dryden to speak of ‘metaphysical poets’
  4. He was a critic who strongly disliked metaphysical poetry

7. What term is associated to metaphysical poetry that suggests the tendency of these poets to display their learning in poetry?

  1. Conceit
  2. Discordia Concors
  3. Wit
  4. Metaphysical

8. Which of these poets compared soul with a drop of dew in one of his poems?

  1. John Donne
  2. Andrew Marvell
  3. Abraham Cowley
  4. Henry Vaughan

9. Which of these poets compared two legs of compass to two lovers in one of his poems?

  1. John Donne
  2. Andrew Marvell
  3. Abraham Cowley
  4. Henry Vaughan

10. Which of these metaphysical poets married Anne More?

  1. Andrew Marvell
  2. Abraham Cowley
  3. Henry Vaughan
  4. John Donne

11. Which of the following metaphysical poems talk of vegetable love?

  1. Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
  2. A Dialogue Between The Soul And Body
  3. To His Coy Mistress
  4. A Garden, Written after the Civil Wars

12. What does ‘conceit’ refer to in concern to metaphysical poetry?

  1. Far-fetched similes and metaphors
  2. Showing off of learning
  3. Sincerity to one theme
  4. Use of same similes and metaphors at multiple points in a poem

13. Whom does John Donne request to ‘Batter my heart’?

  1. His beloved
  2. God
  3. World
  4. Destiny

14. What were the themes very common to poetry contemporary to the metaphysical poets but missing from he poems of these poets?

  1. Contemporary society
  2. Morality and values
  3. Love and religion
  4. Nature and Mythology

15. Who defined the wit of Metaphysical Poets as “…a kind of Discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.”

  1. John Dryden
  2. Samuel Johnson
  3. John Dryden
  4. Herbert Grierson

16. In 1921, who published Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century, which collected poems by Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, Marvell, and Carew?

  1. Herbert Grierson
  2. S. Eliot
  3. Antole France
  4. None of the above

Answer Key for Metaphysical poetry

  1. b
  2. d
  3. a
  4. a
  5. b
  6. c
  7. c
  8. b
  9. a
  10. d
  11. c
  12. a
  13. b
  14. d
  15. b
  16. a

Further Reading

Metaphysical Poets in Wiki

A brief guide to Metaphysical poets

John Donne in Wiki

Andrew Marvell in Wiki

George Herbert in Wiki

Abraham Cowley