John Donne As A Metaphysical Poet
The term in the metaphysical or metaphysics in the poetry is the fruit of renaissance tree, becoming over ripe and approaching pure science. The term metaphysical can be interpreted as beyond =Meta, Physical Nature=Physical. The word metaphysical has been defined by various writers. R.S Hillyer writes, “Literally it has to do with the conception of existence with the living universe and man’s place therein.” Loosely it has taken such meanings as these difficult, obscure, philosophical, ethereal, involved supercilious, ingenious, fantastic and incongruous.
Dryden was the first to use the term in connection with Donne by saying that he “affects the metaphysics.” Dr. Johnson revived this epithet and wrote an essay on the metaphysical poets in his “Life of Cowlay.” He pointed out the following peculiarities of the metaphysical poets.
a) They were men of learning and made a pedantic display of their strange knowledge.
b) They affected a peculiar with which may be deserved (a kind of discords concors) a combination of dissimilar images or discovery of occult resemblance in things apparently unlike.
c) Their fondness for analysis which broke an image into bits, led them to the dissection of emotion rather than a direct impassioned expression of it.
d) Harshness and irregularity of their verse which is poetry only to the eye, not to ear.
John Donne is the classic representative of metaphysical poetry. His instinct compelled him to bring the whole of experience into his verse and to choose the most direct and natural form of expression by his learned and fantastic mind. He is colloquial and rhetorical and erudite in all his poems. There is a plenty of passion in this kind of poetry. In the “Anniversary”, Donne gives a lofty expression to the love and mutual trust of himself and his wife, his restless mind to seek far-fetched ideas, similitude and images in order to convey to the readers the exact quality of this love and interest.
Metaphysical poetry is inspired by “philosophical conception of universe and the role assigned to the human spirit in the great drama of existence.” John Donne and his followers are not metaphysical poets in the full sense of the term. They are metaphysical in a restricted sense. Donne is also award of clash between the old and new, the world of faith and the world of reason, the clash between the old geographers and Copernicus and his followers.
The metaphysical poetry resolves self into two broad divisions of amorous and religious verse. John Donne has written many songs and sonnets on the subject of love. He does not follow the Petrarchan tradition of love poetry as we find in Spenser and Shakespeare. Donne was the first who revolted against this tradition of poetry. He does not flatter his beloved or glorify her. On the contrary, in many of his songs, he shows a cynical contempt for women. His song, “Goe And Catch A Falling Starre” is an example for this connection.
John Donne is also capable of deep feelings. The poems he wrote to celebrate his wedded love are full of such feelings. He says to his wife in the “Anniversary” that all honors and glories all the princes and their favorites might perish but “only our love hath no decay.”
In his early life, John Donne had lived an irregular life but in his middle age he took religion whole-heartedly and entered the church. His divine poems as his religious verse are a brooding thought on the subject of death and a strong faith in resurrection. Donne seems our representative before God.
Unified sensibility is an important element of metaphysical poetry. It was T.S Eliot who made this phrase popular. According to him separation of thoughts from feelings is called dissociation of sensibility. The other is called unified sensibility which is the combination of thinking and feeling. John Donne and the metaphysical had a unified sensibility. Their poetry expressed through feelings and thinking at the same time. Here is a direct apprehension of thought or creation of thought into feeling.
Another characteristic feature of the metaphysical verse is indulgence in “dissimilar images of discovery occult resemblance in things apparently unlike.” The metaphysical poetry is full of far-fetched images or often called conceits and allusions and references borrowed from branches of learning. For example, Donne represents himself in “Twickhnam Garden” as an unhappy lover. He wants to be converted himself in a fountain so that he may weep all the time. But his tears would be true tears of love.
Metaphysical conceits convey a unified experience. John Donne has made a characteristic use of ideas and experience and the most startling connections are discovered between them. According to Greisens, the hallmark of all metaphysical poetry is passionate feeling and paradoxical concentration is an important quality of metaphysical poetry in general and Donne’s poetry in particular. In all his poems, the reader is held to one idea or line of argument.
Intellect and wit blending with emotion and feelings marks metaphysical poetry especially that of Donne. Indeed John Donne represents very well the school of poetry somewhat vaguely called “Metaphysical.” He brought the whole of his experience into his poetry. The term metaphysical was applied to the poetry of John Donne and his followers by Dryden. In their poetry, there is a habit of always seeking to express something after something behind, the simple and obvious first sense and suggestion of a subject. According to Johnson that these poets only wanted to display their learning and to say something which had not been before.