17th century poetry - the Metaphysicals

The Metaphysicals refer to a loose collective of poets such as John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw and Henry Vaughan, who represent some of the highest achievements of the 17th-century English literature. A most conspicuous feature of their style can be described as using images concrete and tangible, richly appealing to human senses and emotions. The label, “Metaphysical,” was attached to them by later generations. “Metaphysical,” as a style label, refers to the so-called “figures of thought” marked by the use of conceits, witticism and paradoxes. But the term still fails to capture the ‘physical’ side of the Metaphysicals – that is, the corporeality, even fleshiness, in their using concrete images and metaphors on the one hand, and expressing sensational feelings and emotions on the other. How, then, do the ‘physical’ and the ‘metaphysical’ meet in 17th century Renaissance poetry? What makes the Metaphysicals ‘metaphysical’? This topic can be explored either by studies of common characteristics of these poets’ works or by close criticism of individual poets.

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