Characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry

In poetry, the word metaphysical or metaphysics is particularly essential. “Physics” signifies “physical nature,” and “meta” signifies “beyond.” Metaphysical poetry is poetry that investigates the spiritual realm beyond the material realm of the senses. In his book Lives of the Most Eminent Poets, famous author, critic and poet Samuel Johnson invented the phrase “Metaphysical Poetry.” Metaphysical poets are  commonly categorized together, not just because they existed in a specific era, but because they appear to have some characteristics. The major metaphysical poets – Donne, Carew, Herbert, Marvell, Vaughan, Crashaw – have certain common themes in their thinking and use a similar method of expression. A combination of cognitive and emotional attributes, of a sensitive alert heart and a strongly active mind, stands out clearly in them. 

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Characteristics of metaphysical poetry:

The regular use of conceits is the first distinguishing feature of metaphysical poets. A conceit invites an out-of-the-ordinary comparison between the things, one marked by incongruity rather than resemblance. This is similar to a flash created by two stones that are fundamentally opposed. Such conceit creates a surprise, which is part of metaphysical poetry. Such examples of conceits abound in the poetry of Donne, Vaughan, Marvell, and Crashaw. Their poetry give connections that encourage the mind to go beyond the common point of similarity, resulting in a delightful surprise.

Concentration is the second feature of metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical poetry is characterized by concentration rather than detailed description. A good metaphysical poem is an expanded epigram, and it is here that both the simplicity and the subtlety of metaphysical poetry are found. Donne asserts the spiritual triumph over death in a very succinct and concise way.

β€œOne short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.”

The centrality of conceits has granted metaphysical poets an intellectual predisposition. Intellectualism is, in fact, a distinguishing quality of metaphysical poetry. This may be seen in metaphysical secular verses as well as metaphysical religious poetry.

Metaphysical wit occasionally includes a tiny little bit of sarcasm, delivered in an entertaining manner. Marvell’s humorous and harshly critical statement in his poem “To His Coy Mistress” on the ultimate result of the ladylove’s stupid struggle to keep her virginity in an impermanent world is witty and sharply caustic-

“And your quaint Honour turn to dust;

And into ashes all my lust.”

Metaphysical poetry is associated with man’s entire experience, but the poets’ intellect, understanding, and seriousness means that the poetry is about the deepest areas of experience, particularly love, romantic, and sensual; man’s faith in God – religion, the everlasting perspective; and, to a lesser extent, joy, learning, and art.

Finally, the metaphysical poets’ analytical tendency is the source of their imagery, diction, and versification peculiarities. Their imagery is frequently lavish and fantastical. They are discovered to use such words that stimulate ideas in the mind. In reality, metaphysical poets produce poetical emotions and sentiments not with traditional phrases and imagery but rather with philosophical or everyday topics with geographical and scientific facts or terminology. Their rhythm is analytical, and probing. In fact, it appeals to the ear to entice the mind to participate, and this is the most noticeable feature of metaphysical poetry. 


For Johnson, “Metaphysical” is largely constructed in stylistic terms; he considers the metaphysical style to be overly expansive and sophisticated, employing intricately contrived words to express conceptual thoughts on a range of topics, described as philosophical in the broadest sense of the term.

Johnson’s critique is centered on his dislike for the conceit. This is a crucial aspect of metaphysical poetry, one that has prompted both acclaim and criticism in about equal proportion over the years. A conceit is basically a form of comparison used to communicate a particularly new and striking notion via the use of figurative language. To that end, a conceit varies from more standard analogies in that the analogy employed and the subject being compared do not appear to be related in any way. That is why Johnson asserts, “The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.”

John Donne as a metaphysical poet:

John Donne wrote a distinctive kind of verse in the last decade of the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century. In the history of English literature, he establishes a new trend in poetry writing. That is why he had one of the sharpest and most powerful minds of his day. His poetry is known for its deft blending of humour and seriousness, and it symbolizes a departure from traditional models in favor of a more personal approach. During that period, he was in charge of composing philosophical poetry.

Donne is regarded as the champion of metaphysical poetry. We see some unusual variety in his poetry. For example, he combined two completely opposing ideas and used humor to convey a serious message. Through his poetry, he expresses his intellect, cleverness, and distinct diction. He gets his material for his figure of speech from a variety of non-poetic sources. Although the subject matter is abstract, Donne renders it in complete poetic concrete pictures. His poetry were distinguished by his figurative writing, use of conceit, abrupt beginning with a dramatic style, and colloquial language.


Metaphysical poets heralded a new age in English literature. These poems have been written in such a way that understanding them requires a certain level of learning. Everyday speech, scientific analysis, and distinctive imagery were all used by metaphysical poets. John Donne, the founder of metaphysical poetry, and his disciples were successful not only at the time, but also in the current day. Because of its unusual variety, metaphysical poetry holds a significant position in the history of English literature, and it continues to be popular among thousands of people today.

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