Metaphysical Poetry of John Donne

Metaphysical Poetry of John Donne is regarded the best of its kind. The word “metaphysical”, as defined by the critic Samuel Johnson, is a loose term generally applied to a diverse group of 17 century poets that appeared a reaction to the Elizabethan poetry and they altogether changed the conventions of love and divine poems. These included John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvel and others. The chief traits of metaphysical poetry are excessive use of wit, conceits, paradoxes, far -fetched imagery or similes and speculation about topics such as love or religion.

In a sense, many of these poets were influenced by Neo-Platonism. Since they appealed more to the intellect than to the senses, therefore, critics like Samuel Johnson rejected them as successful poets; the reader “sometimes admires, is seldom pleased”. He tagged this poetry as “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions…”

When we talk of Metaphysical Poetry of John Donne, the Donne we know is a passionate and bold poet. To grasp & understand the true sense of metaphysical poetry and its use by John Donne, let us discuss various aspects of this genre of verse in the light of his poetry. The poet boldly treats the matter of physical love and union and the disturbance caused by the sun “buie old foole, unruly sunne” in “The Sun Rising”. He goes on to ask God to “batter my heart” because the poet feels that he has sinned so much that there is no escape for him except that God renews his heart and makes it anew. He seeks spiritual renewal with the grace of God. There are several examples as to the passion and boldness of his poetry e.g. “Death be not proud”, “Twicknam Garden” etc.

He is speculative about religion and love in his poetry which is a trait of metaphysical poetry alone. In one of his divine poems he pleads the God to guide him and show him the true church:

“Show me dear Christ, thy spouse, so bright and clear.
What! Is it She, which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? Or which rob’d and tore
Laments and mournes in Germany and here?”

Being a true metaphysical poet, Donne seems to challenge dogmatic beliefs and principles. Hence, Metaphysical Poetry of John Donne is speculative about true church. He seeks the guidance of God for establishing the true church out of Protestant, Catholic and Church of England. Similarly, the poet is no less speculative, rather, doubtful of true love and sincerity on the part of women:

“Go e, and catche a falling starre,
Get with child a mandrake roote,
…And swear
No where
Lives a woman true, and faire.”

Another striking feature of metaphysical poetry is the use of conceit which seems to have well suited the genius of Donne. He excessively uses this feature to enrich his poetry. Though conceits are shocking at times but truly convey the truly accomplish the purpose of the poet in displaying the message of the poet. For example in “The Sunne Rising” the poet calls the two lovers and entire world:

“She ‘ is all States. And all Princes, I,
Nothing else is.”

Likewise, in “Twicknam Garden”, the poet wishes to become the stone fountain. The lovers shall come and take his tears, drops of the fountain, in phials as wine of love.

“Or a stone fountaine weeping out my yeare.
Hither with crystal vyals, lovers come,
And take my teares, which are loves wine,”.

The poet has used three conceits here: first of all the poet as a stone fountain; secondly his tears pouring like fountain water and lastly water of his tears as wine of love.

Read More to the Metaphysical Poetry of John Donne:

  1. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
  2. John Keats as a Romantic Poet
  3. Negative Capability of John Keats
  4. Ode to Grecian Urn
  5. Ode to Autumn
  6. Rime of Ancient Mariner – Analysis
  7. Rime of Ancient Mariner – Text

Further Reading & References to Metaphysical Poetry of John Donne:

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