There is no specific definition of metaphysical poetry. However, most of the critics suggest that it is a branch of poetry which is overstuffed with thoughts. While reading any metaphysical poetry, the stuffing of the poetry hardly gives the reader the time to pause and think. The thoughts, which are mostly stuffed in this type of poetry, are of intellectual standard. Although the definition of metaphysical poetry fails to completely define it in its true essence, its distinctive characteristics are potential enough to separate this type of poetry from other types. John Donne was the first English metaphysical poet.
Some of the distinctive features of metaphysical poetry are conceits, supervising symbols, high level of language and learned themes. Such features collectively stimulate the eccentric chain of reasoning in the mind of the reader. The prominent metaphysical poets including John Donne are George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Henry James. All these poets have implied a peculiar kind of wit in their poetry which is philosophical, theological, and theatrical. According to Ben Jonson “Metaphysical poets show off their education”.
Characteristics of Metaphysical poetry:
Conceit and paradox are closely related to each other and both these features are largely used in metaphysical poetry. The concept is often used to cleverly compare things to justify a particular fact and this fact finally reveals some fondness in hatred. Paradox, on the other hand, seems like a self-contradictory statement, however, in a close inspection it can be found that this contradictory statement contains a truth which is recoiling the opposites.
Another important characteristic of metaphysical poetry is “Undissociated Sensibility”. According to T.S Eliot, Undissociated Sensibility is the art of presenting contrary objects together, and forming a connection between the contraries by the prudent use of languages, such as the connection between abstract and concrete, between remote and near, and physical with natural.
Intelligence or Learnedness
Most of the critics believe that metaphysical poetry is the display of the learnedness and intelligence of its creator. Metaphysical poetry is written in a language which is almost incomprehensible or challenging for a common reader. The scholastics language wrapped up with witty, novel and technical ideas gives metaphysical poetry its distinctive identity.
A certain type of dry humor can be found in metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical poets have never implied laughable humor in their poetry; however, a light humor, which can bring a smile to the face of the reader, is often implied.