The Metaphysical Poets English Summary 

Basic Information:

1. Name: The Metaphysical Poets.

2. Writer: T.S. Eliot. (188-1965)

3. Genre: Critical Writing/ Criticism.

4. Purpose: A review of “Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century”.

5. Published date: London Times Literary Supplement (1921).

6. Topic in discussion: Metaphysical Poetry, Unification of Sensibility, Dissociation of Sensibility, Metaphysical Poets and Modern Age.

English Summary 

So you can know the complete summary very easily through only 6 points.

1. Why was this book / Criticism written?

2. Attributes of Metaphysical Poets

3. Unification of Sensibility and Dissociation of Sensibility.

4. Reply to Dr. Johnson’s Criticism

5. A comparative discussion between Elizabethan and modern poets.

6. Why should there be unification of sensibility?

So let’s discuss the points based on the main summary.

1. Why was this book / Criticism written?

T S Eliot wrote his “The Metaphysical Poets” as a review of a famous book “Metaphysical lyrics and Poems of the 17th Century” by Sir Herbert John Clifford Grierson (Scottish literary critic). Review basically refers to commenting on a book in both good and bad aspects. Before Eliot wrote this book, the metaphysical poets were badly criticized and neglected. He proves that the poems of the metaphysical poets were not idle but their poems were highly intellectual. They did not divert English poetry from its main stream. Rather, it has strengthened and enriched the mainstream of English poetry”.

2. Qualities of Metaphysical Poets:

Next Eliot Eliot talks about the qualities of metaphysical poets.

  • Poems of John Donne and Abraham Cowley

Skillful use of simile can be seen in the writings of John Donne and Abraham Cowley. A simile is a comparison of one thing to another using as or like.

  • Blending of different thoughts

These two writers show the convergence of several thoughts. The explanation of this is that the writings of metaphysical poets combine different types of thoughts which the reader needs to be highly intellectual to understand. That is, if one reads a metaphysical poem and cannot interpret it, then one must understand that the reader has a lack of knowledge.

  • The use of metaphysical conceit is found also in the Elizabethan era

Conceit is basically the comparison between two distant objects and showing the logical connection between them. The difference between heaven and earth is among these objects. As Donne compares two lovers in his poem to two faces of a compass. Pictured in this way is called  “telescoping image”. Which was also among the famous writers of the Elizabethan era, but the amount was less. So Eliot says, since earlier writers also had this feature, why should only metaphysical poets be criticized in this way?

3. Unification of Sensibility and Dissociation of Sensibility:

Here Eliot uses two terms to describe the qualities of metaphysical poets. Unification of sensibility and dissociation of sensibility. Eliot says that the metaphysical poets beautifully expressed sensual feelings in their poems. And that is the unification of sensibility. But later poets who tried to write poetry like metaphysical poets, their poetry basically went the other way. What Eliot calls, dissociation of sensibility.

  • What is sensibility?

By sensibility here, Eliot does not mean the ability to feel different emotions, but rather one’s own skill. The skill with which the writer will unify the various elements. This material was very good for metaphysical poets. But Romantic and Victorian poets began to write following or imitating them. But could not write that way. They were essentially reflective poets. That is, after John Donne and Herbert, unification of sensibility was lost forever and replaced by dissociation of sensibility.

  • Comparative characteristics of poems of 18th century and 19th century poets and their differences with Donne:

Then the poets of the 18th century are told. They were intellectual. But their feelings were not strong. Again the poets of 19th Century were sentimental but not intellectual. That is, their writing quality was different. Unification of sensibility was therefore not in their writing. So Tennyson and Browning are called reflective poets. Like the metaphysical poets they had power of feeling, but could not express it accordingly. But John Donne could express what he thought so beautifully.

Here Eliot calls metaphysical poets intellectual. And those who saw them and started writing poems like metaphysical poems, he called reflective poets. These reflective poets did not have a metaphysical quality in their poetry, rather they moved to another genre.

According to Eliot, metaphysical poets could beautifully represent isolated subjects. For example, they could present the scent of a rose by making it beautiful through words. This is the sense of imagery. John Donne uses the sense of imagery beautifully in his poetry.

4. Reply to Dr. Johnson’s Criticism

Eliot then discusses Dr. Johnson’s definition of metaphysical poets. Dr. Johnson in his “The life of Cowley” says about the writing quality of metaphysical poets, “The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together”. Metaphysical poets forcefully unite disparate religious ideas. That is to say, the forceful union or similitude of completely opposite or discrepant ideas are arranged by the metaphysical poets. At this point, TS Eliot says that this is a unique feature of poetry to bring disparate ideas together. It has long existed in poetry in English literature.

Eliot again refers to Dr. Johnson’s book “The Vanity of Human Wishes‘ ‘ and says that in his book, various disparate ideas have been brought together. That is, the characteristic that he is criticizing is contained in his own writing. But in this place Johnson says, Dr. Johnson has arranged these discrepant ideas, but the metaphysical poets could not arrange them in that way. In opposition to this, Eliot has shown the beautiful presentation of “Heterogeneous ideas” in the writings of various metaphysical writers. Eliot also says that the poets after John Donne and Herbert who started writing about these metaphysical elements such as God, love, religion and fate, gradually stopped writing about metaphysical elements after them. However, Eliot agreed with Johnson in one place. And that is, the metaphysical poets have been able to show a small thing very big, that is, they have shown a small thing very finely analyzed.

5. Comparative Discussion among John Donne, the Elizabethan and the Modern Age.

Eliot shows some similarities between the writers of these three periods in terms of sensibility. At the very beginning of the Elizabethan era, the main stream of poetry continued into the modern era. That is to say, the authors of the modern era also showed the metaphysical conceit in their writings, which was also present in the Elizabethan era. However, metaphysical writers were the most advanced in terms of sensibility. That is, the metaphysical poets were in the mainstream of English poetry. But this trend was changed by John Dryden and John Milton, two big names of English literature. That is, these two famous writers have changed the genre of English poetry a little. Their writings had the highest use of language, the highest logic, but the absence of soul and sensibility.

6. Why should there be unification of sensibility?

Finally Eliot says that a poet’s poem should have unification of sensibility. That is, getting something with different senses, feeling something, creating new things with something and creating its acoustic image is the unification of sensibility. Only through the unification of sensibility, a poem can be a meaningful poem. And the poem will find its fulfillment.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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