The Metaphysical Passion: Seven Modern American Poets and the Seventeenth-Century Tradition

By Sona Raiziss | Go to book overview

1 DEFINITIONS

ANY BASIC consideration of metaphysical poetry at once implies two insistent questions: What is the meaning of "Metaphysical"? Who are the "Metaphysical poets"?

The term in our sense has been used for over two centuries, often indiscriminately. There is that loose application because its intent has varied from William Drummond's day,1 through Dryden's and Johnson's, to our own. But we are obliged to keep the name for want of another that might approximate it and at the same time contain all the connotations.2 To saddle Donne with a school reaching from his contemporaries to Cowley, because of a common heritage, seems an imposition. Yet we make this identification because Donne's metaphysical poetry was by far the most original and significant, and because his disciples in later generations were brought close to him with the belated publication of his verse.

To begin with, there is an admitted difference between "metaphysical" as a technical expression in English literary history and its meaning for poetry with a generally philosophical bent. Because of the term's connection with philosophy, the dictionary definition of "metaphysics" is relevant:

[From metaphysic, n., after ML. metaphysica, neut. pl., fr. Gr. meta ta physika after those things which relate to external nature, after physics, fr. meta beyond, after physikos relating to external nature, natural, physical, fr. physis nature. . . . The term was first used, it is believed, by Andronicus of Rhodes, the editor of Aristotle's works, as a name for that part of his writings which came after the Physics.] . . . The primary meaning of metaphysics is derived from those discussions by Aristotle which he himself called the First Philosophy or Theology,

-3-

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The Metaphysical Passion: Seven Modern American Poets and the Seventeenth-Century Tradition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Part One The Temper Of Metaphysical Poetry 1
  • 1- Definitions 3
  • 2- The Poets and Their Subjects 11
  • 3- Methods, Manner, and Mood 21
  • 4- Wit and the Objective Equivalent 35
  • Part Two Sources of The Metaphysical Impulse 57
  • 5- Time of Transition 59
  • 6- Seventeenth-Century Conflicts 79
  • 7- Analogies 103
  • 8- Twentieth-Century Tensions 114
  • 9- Phases of the Modern Crisis 133
  • Part Three Seven Poets: Text and Context 165
  • 10- T. S. Eliot 167
  • 11- The Fugitives 184
  • 12- Macleish-Wylie-Crane 212
  • Notes 242
  • Partial Bibliography Of Critical Works from 1900 293
  • Index of Names 319
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