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The Metaphysical poets were a loose group of British lyric poets of the 17th century, who shared an interest in metaphysical concerns and a common way of investigating them. Their rigorous, energetic verse appeals to the reader’s intellect rather than emotions, discarding intuition and mysticism in favour of rational discussion. Their inventive, elaborate style was characterised by learned imagery and subtle argumentation, and the "metaphysical conceit", a figure of speech that employs unusual and paradoxical images such as in Andrew Marvell’s comparison of the soul with a drop of dew. Although such devices were not new, these poets managed to make the most of them with their fresh and original approach, infusing new life into English poetry.
The most important Metaphysical poets were
The following poets have also been sometimes considered Metaphysical:
They were first labelled "metaphysical poets" by Samuel Johnson in The Lives of the Poets (1744), though John Dryden had already pointed out the "Metaphysics" of Donne’s poetry in a critique some fifty years earlier. Both Dryden and Johnson were highly disapproving of the metaphysical poets, regarding their style as too abstracted and far-fetched in its witty comparisons. Johnson said
"The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased."
However, the group was to have a significant influence on 20th-century poetry, especially through T. S. Eliot whose essay The Metaphysical Poets (1921) helped bring their poetry back into favour.
- 17th C. English Literature: Metaphysical Poets by Anniina Jokinen
- The Metaphysical Poets - study guide by Andrew Moore
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