metaphysical poets

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metaphysical poets, name given to a group of English lyric poets of the 17th cent. The term was first used by Samuel Johnson (1744). The hallmark of their poetry is the metaphysical conceit (a figure of speech that employs unusual and paradoxical images), a reliance on intellectual wit, learned imagery, and subtle argument. Although this method was by no means new, these men infused new life into English poetry by the freshness and originality of their approach. The most important metaphysical poets are John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, and Andrew Marvell. Their work has considerably influenced the poetry of the 20th cent.

See studies by H. C. White (1936, repr. 1962), J. F. Bennett (3d ed. 1964), H. Gardner, ed. (1967), G. Williamson (1967), P. Beer (1972), P. Grant (1974), and M. DiCesare, ed. (1988).

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Metaphysical(s) Poets. Term applied by Samuel Johnson to a group of 17th-cent. Christian poets (especially J. Donne, G. Herbert, T. Traherne, H. Vaughan). He intended it as a term of dismissal, but they have come to be recognized as, collectively, one of the finest expressions of Christian poetry.

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metaphysical poets a group of 17th-century poets whose work is characterized by the use of complex and elaborate images or conceits, typically using an intellectual form of argumentation to express emotional states. Members of the group include John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and Andrew Marvell.

The application of metaphysical to these poets is first recorded from the mid 18th century. The genesis of the specific use, however, can be found a century earlier, in a reference by William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585–1649) to ‘Metaphysicall Ideas’.