Four Metaphysical Poets: Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw

Four Metaphysical Poets: Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw

Four Metaphysical Poets: Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw

Four Metaphysical Poets: Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw

Excerpt

I have revised but not substantially altered this introduction to four seventeenth century poets. In some ways my approach to these poets may be said to belong to the nineteen-thirties. There is an underlying assumption that the reader will be familiar with and responsive to nineteenth century romantic poetry, and that the prosaic images, the rhythms of speech and the logical complexity of metaphysical poetry may at first repel him. Today the reader is more accustomed to difficult poetry; he no longer expects tunefulness or images that delight the senses. The qualities of lucidity and logical coherence in metaphysical poetry are more likely to seem strange to him now than the rarity of evocative rhythms and sense-delighting figures. Perhaps, today, that lucidity needs to be stressed and even excused. Modern critics often encourage us to look in poetry for fragments of meaning not wholly intended by the poet nor within his control. But the metaphysical poet knew what he meant; though rhythm and imagery enhance his meaning, they do not make it ambiguous. The only ambiguity that the reader should look for is the intentional pun, anagram or emblem. If I were beginning again today, I should find myself trying to show how, nevertheless, the best in this kind are poems and not merely witty verses. The meaning is unambiguous, but more disturbing and far-reaching than the most exact prose paraphrase. It is not only conveyed to the reason but 'proved on the pulses' by the poet's rhythm and diction. These poets were skilled and subtle masters of metre, and they had something to say that required the language of poetry.

But I have not rewritten this book; I have sometimes . . .

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