Metaphysical Poetry

metaphysical poets

metaphysical poets, name given to a group of English lyric poets of the 17th cent. The term was first used by Samuel Johnson (1744). The hallmark of their poetry is the metaphysical conceit (a figure of speech that employs unusual and paradoxical images), a reliance on intellectual wit, learned imagery, and subtle argument. Although this method was by no means new, these men infused new life into English poetry by the freshness and originality of their approach. The most important metaphysical poets are John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, and Andrew Marvell. Their work has considerably influenced the poetry of the 20th cent.

See studies by H. C. White (1936, repr. 1962), J. F. Bennett (3d ed. 1964), H. Gardner, ed. (1967), G. Williamson (1967), P. Beer (1972), P. Grant (1974), and M. DiCesare, ed. (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Metaphysical Poetry: Selected full-text books and articles

John Donne and the Seventeenth-Century Metaphysical Poets
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, 1986
A Short History of English Literature
Harry Blamires.
Routledge, 1984 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Metaphysical and Cavalier Poetry"
European Metaphysical Poetry
Frank J. Warnke.
Yale University Press, 1961
Four Metaphysical Poets: Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw
Joan Bennett.
Cambridge University Press, 1953 (2nd edition)
Three Metaphysical Poets
Margaret Willy.
The British Council, 1961
Metaphysical to Augustan: Studies in Tone and Sensibility in the Seventeenth Century
Geoffrey Walton.
Bowes & Bowes, 1955
Reason and Romanticism: Essays in Literary Criticism
Herbert Read.
Faber and Gwyer, 1926
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry"
Poets' Grammar: Person, Time, and Mood in Poetry
Francis Berry.
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "The Metaphysical's Craft of the Verb"
The Metaphysicals and Milton
E. M. W. Tillyard.
Chatto & Windus, 1956
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