John Donne is a metaphysical poet

Question: John Donne is a metaphysical poet- discuss.


John Donne (1572-1631) is the pioneer of the metaphysical school of poetry. The metaphysical school of poetry has been criticized severely till the time of T. S. Eliot (1888-1956), but every critic has shown some transparent criteria which are prescribed for this branch of poetry. The use of conceits, argumentative thought, passionate thinking, unified sensibility and so on which are the features of metaphysical poetry have been established by the father.

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Since Donne is the pioneer of the metaphysical school of poetry, his poems speak of several qualities that are described as metaphysical. First, we must recognize that his poetry is metaphysical because of its content. His poems are highly philosophical and reflective. Much of his poetry deals with love and religion. In the poem “The Canonization”, Donne logically shows his passion that the lovers are saints. “The Sunrising” argumentatively depicts that satisfactory love cannot be disturbed by any kind of natural force. At the Holy Sonnets, Donne addresses religious themes related to death, divine justice, heavenly love, and humble penance while reflecting on deeply personal concerns.

Passionate thinking

There is plenty of passion in metaphysical poetry, but it is combined with intellectual thinking. T.S. Eliot thinks that “passionate thinking” is the chief mark of metaphysical poetry. John Donne gives a lofty expression to the love and mutual trust of himself and his beloved in a huge number of his poems. In “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”, he declares the power of mutual trust in a very fantastic way. He convinces his beloved that separation for a while creates more and more sensation and attraction for the lovers unless they are impure. In such a way, they even become more purified.

“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.”

Unified sensibility

The fusion of thought and emotion in poetry is called the unification of sensibility. The term ‘unified sensibility’ applied by John Donne first time in poetry is identified and evaluated positively first by T.S. Eliot. Unification of sensibility can be illustrated in short by citing the example of rose. When we look at the rose, we feel its fragrance and can see its beauty too. The poetry of Donne is indeed realizable and understandable like the fragrance and outer appearance of a rose because of the excellent blending of thought and emotion. He connects the abstract with the concrete, the physical with spiritual, the remote with the near, and the sublime with the commonplace.

Use of conceits

Metaphysical poets are brought under severe criticism because of their conceits. It is believed by critics like Johnson that the use of conceits is the difficult term of metaphysical poetry. But in the 20th century, it is proved that conceits are the source of a proper blending of thoughts and emotions. It is universally known that Donne’s poetry abounds in metaphysical conceits. One of the finest instances of conceit is:

“She’s all states, and all princes, I,

Nothing else is.”

Wit and argument

Wit and argument in metaphysical poetry refer to intellectualism which is called one of the hallmarks. As a learned man, John Donne is a repository of intellectualism. His witty expressions and the way of arguments are often very difficult for the average readers. But it has made Donne unique. We can cite from “The Good-Morrow”:

“Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I

Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.”

Dramatic quality

It is thought that metaphysical poetry is the paradigm of a morality play. This genre of poetry is engulfed with dramatic qualities. Abrupt beginning confers the fuel to dramatic quality. Besides, the conversational manner of writing creates a dramatic sensation. Whatever poem of John Donne we name it is dramatic.

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To sum up, it will be interesting to mention that the future of metaphysical poetry has been bright especially because of its vivid and transparent characteristic features. And John Donne has done his duty just like a founder.

S Ridoy Kumar
S Ridoy Kumar
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