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Poetry: Donne’s Metaphysical Work

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As William Wordsworth so rightly said, “Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge-it is as immortal as the heart of man”. Its themes are the simplest experiences of life: sorrow and joy, love and hate, peace and war. Yet they are equally the boldest formations, the most complex classifications and studies of reason if the poet is able to carry sensation into these poems, forming them into passionate experiences through vivid and moving imagery. For uncertain or inexperienced readers not prepared for understatement and subtleties, Donne’s poetry acts as a vivid recruiting device. Such readers need to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken by the strenuousness of Donne’s metaphysical conceits in order to truly delight in the style and theme of a poem. Donne’s far-fetched analogies that challenge ordinary logic are enjoyable to readers, much like solving a challenging puzzle. While other poets may charm or touch hearts with their simple pleasure, Donne is a poet who truly teaches and delights through the work he gives his reader. His style thrills readers who solve his puzzle and are inducted into a secret society of theme and meaning. Though his dazzle and extravagance are not for the uncommitted, as his work requires some research (cosmology, cartography, contemporary politics, law, logic, physiology, etc.), his poetry is united by a sense of urgency of mind and spirit. Though Ben Johnson predicted Donne’s poetry would perish for want of “being understood”, it is this very want that results from his use of the metaphysical that allows him to effectively teach and delight his audiences.

In T.S. Eliot’s support of metaphysical poets, he pointed out that, “Our civilization comprehends great variety and comple...

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...ecurrent and startling as those of phrasing. Donne experiments with rhythmical effect a he does with conceits and words. The thought in his poetry is not the primary concern but the feeling. It is this very feeling , a delight in his conceits, and a new understanding of what the conceit is expressing and teaching, that he successfully imparts in his readers. The central theme of his poetry is his own intense personal dispositions, as a lover, a friend, a psychoanalyst of his own experiences, worldly and religious. Classical poetry cannot unify these experiences; it is John Donne’s use of the metaphysical that allows him to present his poetry as a whole experience, and to show feelings as they are. This technique proves him not only successful in teaching and delighting audience, but achieving both so effectively that they have the ability to affect readers deeply.
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