Metaphysical Poets Essay

3334 words - 14 pages


This has been written for undergraduates and the general reader who is interested in the study of poetry. The poems considered explicitly here are these:
by John Donne, The Good-Morrow, The Sunne Rising, The Anniversarie, The Canonization, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning and A Nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day by George Herbert, Jordan (I), The Pearl, The Collar, Discipline and Love (III) by Andrew Marvell, The Coronet, Bermudas, To His Coy Mistress, The Definition of Love and The Garden by Henry Vaughan, The Retreate, The World, Man and “They Are All Gone into the World of Light”

The term "metaphysical" when applied to poetry has a long and interesting history. You ...view middle of the document...

Reflections on love or God should not be too hard for you. Writing about a poet's technique is more challenging but will please any examiner. Giving some time to each (where the task invites this), while ending on technique would be ideal. Here are some suggestions as to how to look at the detail of individual poems under a very broad heading. Love in the poems. In Marvell we find the pretence of passion (in To His Coy Mistress) used as a peg on which to hang serious reflections on the brevity of happiness. The Definition of Love is an ironic game - more a love of definition let loose; the poem is cool, lucid and dispassionate, if gently self-mocking. So you can move on to Donne, in whom passionate sexual love is examined with vigour and intensity. There are far too many suitable poems to consider all in detail, but The Good-Morrow, The Sunne Rising and The Anniversarie belong together, while A Nocturnall, upon S. Lucie's Day gives the other side of the coin. There is positive celebration of life in The Good Morrow and the others, while in the Nocturnall we have the examination of complex negativity. In A Valediction, Forbidding Mourning the argument is not logically persuasive, but the cleverness and subtlety of Donne's method are diverting - an intelligent woman might be comforted. She cannot change the fact of the lover's going, but the poem is evidence of the integrity of the love he has professed hitherto. Both Herbert and Vaughan address man's love of God, while Herbert, and Marvell (Bermudas), consider God's love of man. Herbert considers man's duty to God in The Collar and The Pearl, as does Marvell in The Coronet. Eternity and man's life in the context of this, is the explicit subject of all of Vaughan's poems in the selection, but is considered by Herbert in The Flower and, in a wholly secular manner, by Marvell in To His Coy Mistress. In terms of the whole poetry of these four, this small selection accurately reflects the arguably narrow preoccupation of Herbert and Vaughan with religious questions, and the great variety of Marvell. The selection only of love poems is partly misleading in Donne's case. He wrote a great deal of devotional verse, much of it very good, but his most striking achievements are in the Songs and Sonnets. Herbert, of course, is not narrow - he is concerned with man's whole life in relation to God. Vaughan is more problematic - his preoccupation with his own salvation and his conviction that most of mankind is damned are less attractive qualities. He is fanatical where Herbert is tolerant.
The poems' arguments
‘Looking at the poets' technique should, perhaps, begin with a consideration of argument. In a way all of the poems have an argument, but it is interesting or striking in some more than others. To His Coy Mistress - the light and the serious arguments in one; the structure "Had we ..." "But ..." "Now therefore ..."; A Valediction Forbidding Mourning - the structure "As ... so" "But ... But" "Therefore"...

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