Eliot distinguishes between the intellectual poet and reflective poets

Eliot distinguishes between the intellectual poet and reflective poets

Question: How does Eliot distinguish between the intellectual poet and reflective poets?


As Eliot fixes the goal that he will abolish all the overdone misconceptions about the metaphysical school of poetry, he introduces a new term in his essay that is known as ‘reflective and intellectual poet’. He distinguishes between the intellectual poet and the reflective poet in his famous critical essay “The Metaphysical Poets” to declare the superiority of the metaphysical poets.


Eliot clearly defines that the poets who are passionate thinkers are called intellectual poets. To put it differently, the metaphysical poets are intellectual poets. But the poets who are deeply thoughtful but separated from passion and emotion are called reflective poets.

“Tennyson and Browning are poets, and they think; but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose. A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility.”

From this definition, it is transparent that the metaphysical poets are endowed with at least double qualifications. Thus, Eliot means to say that if Tennyson and Browning are accepted very positively, the metaphysical poets must deserve prestige.

Click here: For all the notes of Literary Criticism

Versification technique

Eliot deeply suggests that the metaphysical poets have achieved their versification technique from their predecessors of sixteenth-century dramatists who were the master of ‘mechanism of sensibility’. On the other hand, the reflective poets especially Tennyson and Browning as a writer of dramatic monologue are the followers of the intellectual poets. Because they possess the same tradition of abrupt beginning and silent listeners but really devoid of sensibility.

Dissociation of sensibility

The term ‘dissociation of sensibility’ has been coined out by Eliot in his essay. Dr. Johnson blames the intellectual poets in the following manner:

‘the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’

Such blame recommends that the metaphysical poets were the first to separate thought and passion. But Eliot argues that the dissociation of sensibility was started by the two most powerful poets of the seventeenth century namely John Dryden and John Milton, who are also in the class of reflective poets. Since the period of Milton and Dryden, the English poets could not come out of practicing dissociation of sensibility till the versatile creative time of the modern period. Thus, it is crystal clear that the reflective poets are engulfed with dissociation of sensibility, but the intellectual poets are the lord of unification of sensibility.

Diction vs feeling

Eliot presents a unique discovery between the intellectual poets and the reflective poets in case of use of language. As reflective poets follow the dissociation of sensibility from the time of Milton and Dryden, their language grows and, in some cases, improves. The best verse of Collins, Gray, and so on satisfies some of our fastidious demands better than that of Donne or Marvell or King. But while the language became more refined, the feeling became cruder. For instance, the feeling and the sensibility expressed in Gray’s Elegy is cruder than that in Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”. In the case of language and feeling, the subjects of Tennyson and Browning were the most distinguished and famous among the Victorian poets. Thus, Eliot argues that reflective poets are lesser than metaphysical poets in the case of passion.


In a nutshell, it can be said that though Eliot is not starkly accurate in differentiating between the intellectual poets and the reflective poets, his intention is perfect because he has just wanted to show that the metaphysical poets are the inevitable part of the galaxy of English literature.

Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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