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

By Sona Raiziss | Go to book overview

5 TIME OF TRANSITION

THE PREDICAMENT of a troubled epoch, as well as subtle crises in the personality of an individual artist, are stimulants to metaphysical expression. In their time of contending faiths, speculation was a spiritual necessity for Donne and his followers, as for Eliot in current circumstances. Somewhat different conditions produced the great poetry of Dante and Shakespeare. But Dante's metaphysical interest was also the culmination of a culture, and many Shakespeare passages have analogy with Donne's characteristic idiom.

Both ages that concern us here are notable for scientific advances and for world disorders. England has never before or since suffered such religious reversals as during the Elizabethan period and the seventeenth century. Our own age is the immediate and unhappy heir of unprecedented industrial, technological, and political upheavals. At such times easy statement and style prove inadequate. The difficult idiom, the hard epithet, the mental effort, coöperate toward a more complex utterance. Writers develop an attitude in which the heart does not exclude the mind, and the head and the heart learn life with special anxiety. Although some critics, like Grierson, insist that all great poetry is metaphysical, not all metaphysical poetry will be good, let alone great, writing. But when poetry turns metaphysical and when it is great, he contends, it is the voice of its tumultuous day.

During transitional and particularly turbulent crises in history, "advanced" poetry has generally been metaphysical in a loose sense: witness Dante, Marvell, Goethe, Blake, Hopkins, Dickinson, Baudelaire, Yeats, Crane--to take token names at random.

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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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