Although not an official or formal school of poetry Metaphysical Poetry is widely present in 17th century English poetry. According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, English poets such as Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw, Marvell, Traherne, and Cowley can all be attributed as Metaphysical poets (1262). Coined by critics such as Samuel Johnson and William Hazlitt, Metaphysical poetry contains complex conceits and self-conscious leaning (1262). Metaphysical poetry concerns the whole experience of man; however, it primarily details love, romance, and man’s relationship with God. In association with Metaphysical poetry the device known as metaphysical conceit was developed. Metaphysical conceit is defined as an extended metaphor of two paradoxes that are complexly compared in vast detail that compels readers to develop a refined understanding of one entity as it is compared to another in an obscure way. Such is vastly present throughout the works of John Donne and George Herbert. When compared in detail John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 14” and George Herbert’s “The Alter” both heavily contain the characteristics of a Metaphysical Poem and both use Metaphysical conceit as a device to convey their strong ideas.
As a whole, the majority of Donne’s poetry contains an immense amount of imagery as he wrote about romance, sex, love, nature and God; All elements of which contributes to his classification as a Metaphysical poet. “Given the shape of Donne’s career, it is no surprise that his poems and prose works display an astonishing variety of attitudes, viewpoints, and feelings on the great subjects of love and religion (1262).” Due to his own struggle and transitions in ...
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...” The speaker is comparing himself or his heart in vast detail to a broken altar. Herbert makes the connection that the alter is the closet one can be to God and its broken condition is essentially a depiction of the man who produced it. Herbert is conveying the message that humans are sinful but if they sacrifice themselves to God they will be sanctified in the eyes of the Lord just as the alter is. Overall, the largest comparison between the works are the poets own struggles with religion being mirrored and highlighted within their works through the use of diction, technique, and poetic devices. Both Donne and Herbert are delivering individual and powerful messages throughout their works, however, their choice to write about religion and their use of conceits, comparing paradoxes to convey their themes, makes both of their works classifiable as Metaphysical Poems.
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