John Done as a Metaphysical Poet


The expression ‘Metaphysical Poetry’ refers to the works of a group of poets, chiefly of the 17th century, in whose poetry the intellectual faculty abstains an enormous supremacy over feeling and sentiment and emotions are shaped and expressed by logical reasoning. They give expression to their feelings referring to a background of ideas.

Led by John Donne, the metaphysical poets break away from the easy, fluent style, stock imagery and pastoral conventions of the followers of Spenser. They opted for the unexpected and ingenious analogies, remote and farfetched comparisons, and obscurest resources of historical and scientific allusions. Their poetry is, thus, full of learned imageries and striking conceits and at the same time, it is often passionate and lyrical. The group includes poets like John Donne (1572-1631), Andrew Marvell (1621-1673), George Herbert(1593-1633), Richard Crashaw (1612-1649), Abraham Cowley(1618-1667) and many others. John Dryden said in his Discourse Concerning Satire (1693) that John Donne in his poetry “affects metaphysics” meaning that Donne employs the terminology and abstruse arguments of the medieval scholastic philosophers. In 1779 Samuel Johnson extended the term “metaphysical” from Donne to a school of poets, in the acute and balanced critic which he incorporated in his “Life of Cowley”.

John Donne is the first and foremost of the metaphysical poets. Revolting against the Patrarchans and Spenserians, he fashions forth a body of poetry that is revolutionary. He articulates his personal experience and idea of love in a style that carries the very stamp of his genius. The poem ‘God Morrow’ in its formal aspects is related to aubade (Morning serenade).

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In the poem, Donne, however, reshapes the material in his own characteristic fashion, objectifying in concrete terms his subjective experience. The metaphysical manner is evident in the dramatic setting of the poem. The scene is in a bedroom and we hear the poet addressing himself to his lady love while gazing at her peacefully. The oath and series of questions posed in rapid succession give the opening lines the dramatic quality which we find in many metaphysical poems:

“I wonder my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we lov’d? were we not wanted till them?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den”

Then the poet modulates his tone and speaks more quietly and this tonal modulation from the explosive opening into the smooth and verse movement suggests the affinity of the poem to the metaphysical school. He bids good morning to the waking souls of the lovers and it is suggested that the souls without love are dead. Love corresponds to the spiritual awakening that precludes all fears and, therefore, it reigns supreme everywhere. At this point, the cosmic vision of Donne brings us into the midst of the contemporary world wherein we mark the exploration and geographical discoveries. But all these discoveries stand in no comparison to the discovery of love:

“Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each health one, and is one “.

Before the poem concludes, Donne seriously sets about analyzing the character of the love affairs in his own Metaphysical manner. He accepts the philosophical abstractions when he describes love as a complete fusion of the lovers where individual selves get a new identity. This completeness of fusion has been illustrated regarding the astrophysical ideas current in Donne’s age:

“Whatever dies was not mixed equally”

Love resembles a celestial sphere which is stable, permanent and immutable as it is composed of homogenous elements. The images and anti-romantic words like ‘Weaned’, ‘Sucked’, and ‘Snorted’ are unlike the images of Spenserian followers. The poem is compact in structure, tightly organized and shows a tendency to terseness and brevity. Through it is an emotional drama but as the poem progresses the poet introduces intellectual intricacies of drama to analyze, define and explain the nature of love.

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