THE CONCERT is only one of several elements that turn about the centrifugal conflict in metaphysical poetry. Another is wit, whose home is the intellect for all its excursions into the material world. Since one of their principal objects is to heighten emotion by evoking its intellectual equivalent, the metaphysicals instead of laughter employ wit, which is a smile of the mind, a criticism of life conveyed in corrective irony. It is this balance of profound intention against a comic spirit of a high order which results in their "witty" prestidigitation. Confused in common usage, even critically wit does not come easy as an epithet for serious metaphysical poetry. Connotations have altered since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet unless we can invent a new word with all the old weight and worth, we must be content with its original significance. This term, like conceit, is revived not because of verbal poverty but because of the metaphysical renewal.
Wit, then, is "seriousness combined with levity," a "tough reasonableness beneath a slight lyric grace" so characteristic of Marvell, and so neatly exhibited in "To his Coy Mistress." Shakespeare gave the effect of wit on a grand scale by the juxtaposition of a serious scene with a light one, or by combining the opposite implications of death and humor in such scenes as the gravediggers'. Hamlet himself is walking irony. In reduced terms Eliot's "The Boston Evening Transcript" and Ransom's "Captain Carpenter" employ wit to conspicuous advantage. Donne runs its whole gamut.
Especially hospitable to its subtleties are versions of satire, irony, and surprise. Satire as a form and irony as an effect were evident