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

By Sona Raiziss | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

METAPHYSICAL POETRY defines a special poetic syndrome experienced at many moments in literary history. Only twice, however, has the designation been critically assigned to an estimable group of poets writing in English in the same period. Borrowed from philosophy, the epithet was first linked to seventeenth-century English poetry in its own time. And again, in the last two generations, the prevalence of the metaphysical impulse as a documented phenomenon has given the term eminence. Our contribution is rich not alone in this kind of verse but in its scholarship and developed criticism.1 The present study reviews certain illustrative American poets extending metaphysical statement in the twentieth century, the relationship to their progenitors, and the cognate cultural forces of both ages.

An impressive school of critics has been examining these two literatures. Particularly attracted to the seventeenth-century metaphysicals, T. S. Eliot at one time proposed to devote to them not only the intermittent essay but perhaps a book. Eventually he abandoned his project, unable to account for their revived reputation and John Donne's "general emergence towards tercentenary fame."2 Yet he continued to enhance Donne's renown by his own critique and poetry. Archibald MacLeish, also admittedly indebted to the Elizabethan and metaphysical poets, in more recent years moved to the literary field of social revolt and lately intellectual patriotism. Such changes should signify that the modern metaphysical impetus reached its apogee in the late twenties and early thirties. In spite of the surfeit Eliot and others may feel, a study of this verse, with its social and psychological implications, still seems useful. Critics still refer to the metaphysical tendency, and always some oncoming poets continue to exemplify it.

-xi-

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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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