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11/16/2018

John Donne as a metaphysical love poet

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Conventionally the term ‘metaphysical’ (applied to John Donne by Dryden and later on confirmed by Dr. Samuel Johnson), means poetry dealing with metaphysical subjects like the nature of the universe, the movement of the stars and planets, the creation of man and his relation with universe, the nature of soul and it's function in the body made of flesh and blood, and the whole relationship with man and God. But Donne is a metaphysical love poet in a different sense. He displayed an abundance of wit and conceit, made use of over elaborated similes and metaphors drawn from remote and unfamiliar sources. His images are logical and intellectual rather than sensuous and conventional. Thus, Donne is called a metaphysical love poet because of his technique of writing. It is not the substance or material rather it is his attitude to the human spirit and Poetic expression that makes him a metaphysical love poet.

Donne's metaphysical love poetry reveals a depth of philosophy, a subtlety of reasoning, a mingling of the homely and sublime, the light and the serious , and these make his poetry full of variety and surprise. Probably, the most distinctive of the metaphysical is their imagery, which in Donne's almost invariably unusual, striking, often breathtaking but sometimes far-fetched and fantastic. Generally, Donne's love poetry is marked by such characteristics as wit, conceit, ratiocination, blend of emotion and intellect, hyperbole, imagery and above all , his style of expression in dramatic and colloquial tones.

Wit is the dominant feature of Donne's  metaphysical love poetry. It may be explained as the saying of fine sparkling things which startle and amuse. It is an intellectual activity which consists in the poet's perception of similarities in dissimilarities and the ingenuity with which he brings together and combines opposites, whether in words or ideas. Donne's wit may be found in his use of puns, wordplay, oxymoron, paradox etc. For example, in “The Canonization” his wit is seen in his reference to the king's real and his stamped face:

“Observe His honour, or His grace
Or the King's real, or his stamped face.”

Another characteristic feature of metaphysical love poetry is conceit, which is basically a simile or a comparison between two far-fetched things. According to Dr. Johnson, in a conceit the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together. This kind of comparison is highly exaggerated, fantastic and far-fetched, and it gives raise to an image. The most famous and striking conceit is the comparison of a man who travels and his beloved who stays, to a pair of compasses in “In Valediction Forbidding Mourning”:

“If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two
They soul is fixed foot, make me show
To move, but doth, if the other do.”

Again, metaphysical imagery is a notable feature of Donne's love poetry. He takes his images from various sources, such as religion, science, nature, astronomy, philosophy, domestic life etc. His strained and whimsical images are startling. The flea to him becomes a marriage bed’
“This flea is you and I , and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is”

In Donne's love poetry, we find a peculiar blend of passion and thought, feeling and ratiocination. Each of his love poem arises out of a particular emotion but he explains that emotion with the help of his intellect.

Another remarkable feature of Donne's love poetry is the use of dramatic monologue. Every lyric of Donne is , indeed, a piece of personal drama and there is always a dialogue or at least a monologue. For example, “The Canonization” starts with a dialogue.

Considering all the aspects of Donne's poetry as discussed above, we can conclude that Donne is perfectly a metaphysical love poet by virtue of his learning and intellect, displaying an abundance of wits and conceits, and, above all, his blend of passion and thought.

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