John Donne: A Metaphysical Poet

Dryden's Remark

John Dryden once remarked:

"Donne affects metaphysics not only in his satires but in amorous verses, too, where nature only should reign."

Unconventional Poetry

Though influenced by the poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Donne did not follow the well-trodden path. His concept of poetry was unconventional, characterized by the dominance of intellect and wit. He skillfully linked diverse ideas through forceful juxtaposition, earning his poetry the label of "strong line poetry" due to its concise expression and deliberate ruggedness. It is important to note that during his lifetime, Donne was not referred to as a metaphysical poet. However, after his death, a re-evaluation of his poetry revealed significant metaphysical elements, ultimately establishing him as a metaphysical poet.

Grierson's Definition of Metaphysical Poetry

Grierson defines metaphysical poetry as:

"Poetry inspired by a philosophical concept of the universe and the role assigned to human spirit in the great drama of existence."

This definition draws inspiration from the metaphysical poetry of Dante, Goethe, and Yeats. Thus, the term "metaphysical" is applicable to poetry that is highly philosophical or delves into philosophical themes.

Passion and Thought in Donne's Work

Donne's poetry is characterized by the combination of passion and thought. His use of conceit is often witty and sometimes fantastical. His hyperboles are audacious, and his paradoxes are astonishing. He seamlessly blends fact and fancy in a manner that astounds the reader. Additionally, some of his poems are metaphysical in the literal sense, exploring philosophical and reflective themes related to the spirit or soul.

The Role of Conceit

Conceit plays a crucial role in Donne's metaphysical poetry, with some of his conceits being far-fetched, bewildering, and intriguing. Through these conceits, he unites disparate emotions into a harmonious whole. For instance:

"When thou weep'st, unkindly kinde,
My lifes blood doth decay."
"When a teare falls, that thou falst which it bore,"
"Here lies a she-sun and a he-moon there"
"All women shall adore us, and some men."

Intellectual Reasoning and Arguments

Donne's approach to poetry is based on logical reasoning and persuasive arguments. He presents intellectual parallels to his emotional experiences. His modus operandi involves moving from the contemplation of facts to deductions, and ultimately arriving at conclusions. For example, he contemplates the concept of fidelity in a woman but concludes that it is impossible to find a faithful woman: "No where Lives a woman true, and faire."

Concentration and Rhetoric

Metaphysical poetry is known for its high concentration of ideas, and Donne's poetry follows suit. In "The Good Morrow," he states:

"For love, all love of other sights controules."

"For, not in nothing, nor in things
Extreme, and scatt'ring bright, can love inhere."

"Hee that hath all can have no more."

His poetry is replete with arguments, persuasion, shock, and surprise. Instead of relying on conventional romantic language, he employs scientific and mathematical terminology to introduce roughness into his verse. .

Fantastic Style and Rejecting Convention

Donne's style is highly fantastic and concise, using rough and curt language. He rejects the conventional style of romantic, soft, and embellished poetry prevalent during his time. His poems often contain paradoxical statements that challenge conventional wisdom. For instance:

In "The Indifferent," Donne describes constancy in men as a vice and asks:

"Will no other vice content you?"

In "The Legacy," the lover becomes his own executor and legacy. In "Love's Growth," the poet's love seems to have increased in spring, but since it was already infinite, it cannot further increase:
"No winter shall abate the spring's increase."

Exploring Complex Themes

Donne tackles complex themes such as the relationship between the body and soul in "The Anniversarie," the interplay between the individual and the universe in "The Sunne Rising," and the dichotomy of deprivation and actuality in "A Nocturnal." His divine poems delve into subjects such as the Crucifixion, ransom, sects/schism, and religion.

Donne as a Seventeenth Century Poet

In conclusion, while John Donne exhibits features that differentiate him from other metaphysical poets, he can be considered more of a seventeenth-century poet. He is a master of wit and employs a more colloquial style compared to his contemporaries. While other seventeenth-century poets also blend emotions and intellect, Donne uniquely defines emotional experiences through intellectual parallels. Nonetheless, he writes within the tradition of seventeenth-century poets.

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