Conceit and Metaphysical Conceit

The word ‘conceit’ means ‘a concept or an image’. In simpler terms, it is a figure of speech that brings out an interesting or striking comparison between two different things, or situations or ideas to create a new concept. The course of development that one comes across in English poetry suggests that there are two kinds of conceit:

(a) the Petrarchan conceit and
(b) the metaphysical conceit.

We will more or less focus on metaphysical the conceit that was mainly employed by the metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century like John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert.

Metaphysical poetry was in vogue during the seventeenth century. It was popularized by John Donne. Later on, many of his literary successors like Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, George Herbert, and Richard Crashaw carried on the tradition.

The metaphysical poets ‘shared a philosophical point of view and strongly opposed the mode of the idealized human nature and of physical love which was a tradition in Elizabethan poetry’. Initially, the ‘metaphysical’ school of poetry was looked down upon by the earlier writers. For instance, Ben Jonson had remarked, ‘Donne deserved hanging because he had run roughshod over the conventional rhythm and imagery and smoothness of the Elizabethan poetry.’

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What is Conceit?


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