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

By Sona Raiziss | Go to book overview

3 METHODS, MANNER, AND MOOD

WE RECOGNIZE then that it is not primarily its substance which distinguishes metaphysical poetry. Love and death, two subjects handled well and often by Donne, have been favorite poetic themes in every age. What Donne's practice contributed to the versification of his day still differentiates metaphysical poetry from its neighbors. This is the technique of communication. Whatever the theme, the method evokes the intellectual apprehension as an intrinsic element in the complete emotional or passionate experience of a poem. This procedure characterizes a metaphysical poem more explicitly than its content or even its mood, of which we shall speak later. Method here involves a special consideration of the conceit, idiom, allusion, distinctive "wit," surprise in paradox and contrast, and even prosodic modifications. In other words, the metaphysical manages an image appropriate to its bold language; advantageous rhetoric; suggestive allusiveness; and an astonishing wit that results from its inherent tensions of thought, emotion, and metaphoric means.

Prominent in Elizabethan and seventeenth-century verse and the principal mark of the metaphysical method, the "conceit" has again claimed attention in modern writing. Actually this trope is a drastic exploitation of figurative language. With the earlier nonmetaphysical Elizabethan poets it was the ornamental embroidery of a sensuous verbalism, a comparison carried to the extreme limits of fancy. But as the metaphysical habit became more prevalent, this device of peculiar properties, translated to the realm of the intellect, afforded the passage between experience and idea. Brought to a superlative state of refinement by the

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