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Metaphysical Poets Elizabethan 16th Century Elizabeth I Jacobean 17th Century James I virgin queen demanding faithful service

e & devotion from aspiring men educated (maps, science, exploration of new lands & new things, philosophical Court culture: flatter Queen, unattainable love & chaste lady, desired & king, wrote books, King Jamess Bible, learning & education, bookishness) admired by subservient, faithful male suitor Literary style: chivalric, perfect ideal love Petrarchan Writers: Sidney, Spencer, Sir Thomas Wyaat (translator of the Petrarchan poetries), William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Ralegh, John Donne Shakespeare: pastoral, comedies Walter Ralegh: praising Queen

Shakespeare: somber, tragedies, death, fighting, philosophical Walter: venture, been to New World, A History of the World Cross Period Writers Shakespeare, Ralegh, John Donne


Context humanism exploration religion

individualism poetry& literature ideal true


subject matter personal & individual intellectual/argument


language style form paradox

English Renaissance (16th 17th century) revival of learning based on classical sources (humanism: schooling in Latin authors, some Greek) the forms adopted: Petrarchan sonnet English (Shakespearean Sonnet) scientific, geographical New World explored Astronomical observations (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo) the discovery of a new order of the universe new religion: Reformation; Church of England, Calvinism Controversies over the faith had wricked confidence in authority of doctrines taught people to inquire carefully into their own beliefs Calvinism: stressing individuals personal relation to God the faith alone: neither sacraments, ceremonies ... could provide grace & ones salvation Catholic Church emergence of individualism in life, thought, religion & art old & new ideas affecting the status of poetry & literature should poetry depict what was ideally rather than actually true how can be truth established contrary ideas: Circle of Lucius Cary: unreasonable for any individual to force his opinions onto any other Thomas Hobbes: all must be as the state pleases In this turmoil, inconsistent influences emerge metaphysical poets labelled by S. Johnson (18th century) the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together failure of conjunction ideas yoked but not united Dryden: Donne affects the metaphysics...in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign Donne employs the language of philosophical debate in inappropriate contexts Johnson: forsaken the true business of the poet to represent either human nature/natural world as to call upon the deepest feelings of the reader instead written only in order to show off their unusual learning/intellectual ingenuity - wit What unites them as a group: universal issues: existence, love, death, religion & relation btw those poets of personal & individual feeling, responding to their times pressures privately, introspectively meditative & devotional verse; thought = experience, verbal equivalent for states of mind & feelings intellectual approach to emotional & spiritual issues poems in form of argument, analysis, demonstrating their knowledge of contemporary discoveries subtle outrageous logic, use of reason sometimes arbitrary, imperfect, end at very different place from their beginning ingenuity in literary invention, surprising paradoxical figures of speech word-play + conceptual thinking, use of conceit, unusual, unexpected images & comparisons of dissimilar objects analogies unexpected but appropriate look at things in a new unconventional way to surprise/startle poems involving conflict, paradox, puns, irony, ambiguity dramatic language, informal, direct, rhythm of living speech, immediacy, spontaneous thought, dram. outburst, abrupt openings
rough verse (exclamations, interjections, enjambment, anastrophe), forceful verbs simple form (octosyllabic couplets/quatrains), lines of varying length (stanzas created for the particular poem line length, rhyme scheme enforced the sense) packed with sense, economic aphoristic density deep thought common language; extraordinary thought ordinary situations the state of being vexed by unresolved contraries (contradictions at the heart of human experience; speaker: different role, postures); reversed to fantastic ideal, romantic situations; the state of being vexed by unresolved contraries expressed by the paradox contradictory statements that are simultaneously true contradictions at the heart of human experience religious issues uses language & form associated with love/secular poetry (Holy Sonnets) extended metaphor with complex logic governs whole poems/passage not indulged for its own sake to persuade, to define, to prove a point/justness of the initial comparison instrument of


definition aims at making us concede justness while admiring ingenuity differing from other poetry courtly Donne 18th century T.S. Eliot
Courtly love/Petrarchan: exalts & idealise the mistress; chaste, beautiful, remote unattainable women; desired, sought by admiring, subservient, faithful male suitors; mistress cool like ice, male constant in his devotions; frustrated, unreciprocated love Donne: parody Petrarchan conventions; draws on Ovidian situations & attitudes rejects the conventions of courtly & Petrarchan love poetry (Elegies); lovers refuse to serve; male speakers admit their interest in money & s.; women inconstant, unfaithful later: celebration of mutual, reciprocal love experience of supreme value metaphysical replaced by ornamental verse, reflective & descriptive poetry (16th,17th century drama18th no drama opposed Johnson heterogeneous material brought into unity is omnipresent simple, elegant, pure language structure of sentences far from simple not vice but a fidelity to thought & feeling variety (Marvells Coy Mistress Crashaws Saint Teresa) same meter, very dissimilar; challenged: passages of wit must detract from the seriousness & emotional power of the poems poets of the 17th century direct & normal development of the precedent age dramatic verse expresses a degree of development of sensibility incorporated their erudition into their mode of feeling, which was altered by their reading & thought thought to Donne was experience & it modified his sensibility trying to find the verbal equivalent for states of mind & feeling poets in our civilization must be difficult our civilization comprehends great variety & complexity must produce various & complex results poet more & more comprehensive, allusive, indirect in order to dislocate language into his meaning


1596-1597 1615 1617 Works Elegies

John Donne (1572 1631) his life helps to explain the emotional turmoil in most of his poetry preoccupation with conflict, deceit, faithfulness & betrayal raised as a Catholic, later converted to Protestantism (Anglicanism)& became Dean of St Pauls Cathedral his brother died in prison arrested bcz he harboured a Catholic priest elopement with noblemans daughter got imprisoned & after his release he had to go through long period of financial hardship & struggle before he gained back his social position educated at the Oxford & Cambridge barred from graduation bcz Catholic travelled on the Continent & in 1596-97 accompanied the Earl of Essex on his expedition to Cdiz and to Azores wrote anti-Catholic polemics to please the King James for money, but in vain ordained Holy Sonnets with the death of his wife served in the Parliament of Queen Elizabeth, served James I, & preached a sermon in his sick health to Charles I never published dangerous implication in Elizabeths reign also for James I & Charles I misogynistic, rejecting a womans rule subversive of Petrarchan subservient love less classical (as to Dante & chivalry) more like Ovid, far less superficial evidence of classical learning, pastoral & mythological imagery less picturesque, more scientific, philosophic, realistic, homely (everyday experience), sensual passion the joy of mutual & contented passion Poetry for the mistress (James I, Jacobean literature) themes: conquering, seduction, conquest taking sth from the woman, exploring each other (s. metaphor), triumphant fulfilment Poetry for his wife anti-Petrarchan, fulfilment & mutual love Metaphysical poets were men of learning, & to show their learning was their whole endeavour ... Their courtship was void of fondness... Songs & Sonnets are a kind of love poetry in which the love is missed out Donnes poetry too simple to satisfy ... none of the depth & ambiguity of real experience in him poetry: superficial (only show of their learning); unable adequately to portray human feelings; cannot succeed in engaging the interest of the reader at the deepest level the variety of feelings expressed in the collection as a whole the bite of a flea, geography & astronomy, medieval theology & medicine, military manoeuvres, alchemy taxation, Kings delight in hunting... love for Donne does not exist isolated from other emotions & activities but alongside & mingled with them love not one simple thing but a compound of many exhibits range & strength of feeling love-lyricist of the highest order impossible to define his attitude to love expressed different attitudes in different poems according to the mood of the moment assert dignity of love, its claim on the entire self both body & soul for? & about women; the relations btw men & women; reconfigure poetic & social conventions; shaped by beliefs of early modern English society, rules of genre, demands of the situation; social roles played by men & women, fundamental to his poetics & cultural inheritance: misogyny & male domination, acknowledge s. stereotypes, gender hierarchy; challenge: mutuality in love from middle & later period of his lifethe strain of years of disappointment, ill-health & financial insecurity evident (many poems celebrating the hoys of s. life/written out of the experience of certain & fulfilled love hard to find religious poems to compare with these (celebrating moments of vision in which the poet glimpses his ultimate union with God) typically marked by an effort of the will to examine & discipline his mind in many of them the freedom & vitality characteristic of the love poetry replaced by a mood which borders on despair meditation a from of religious exercise in which memory & imagination used systematically help focus & encourage a mood of devotion (dramatic, forced verse) secular & religious/sacred: in common the voice the full force of his passion & his intelligence not raw expressions of emotions & not pieces of argument one of the great religious poets as well as one of the great poets of s. love clear similarities btw the secular & the religious poems the instinct towards argument, the sense of personal confrontation with another (Donne addresses his God as directly as he addresses the women in his poems) the feeling we have that the whole man is present in the verse reason, intellect essential to the poems very existence = as Donne believed they were to human nature the poems arguments expose the inadequacy of reason to penetrate the mysteries of faith/to assure Donne of his personal salvation Donne unable to leave any idea/experience unexamined if he falls in love he wants to understand what love means if he uses the word now, drawn to thing about the past & the future the same questioning habit of mind in the religious poems great poet of the crisis btw faith & doubt love many different kind of relationships (what matters s. satisfaction ignores the spiritual element in love; lovers supremacy over the temporal world; at the same time an acute sense of their vulnerability in a world dominated by time; different attitudes adopted in different poems according of the mood of the moment the exploration of the individuals experience of love, morality & the divine the process of examining emotional experience produces a poetry of contradictions talking about religion/religious truth, exploring the varieties & complexities of love, meditating on sin, grace, question of salvation predominantly iambic; according to Ben Jonson Donne allowed himself a excessive degree of freedom; frequently used modification reverse the first foot (stress of the 1.) give vigorous start; he sometimes allows more weight to the unstressed syllables gives energy tension btw regularity of a formal pattern & the complete freedom of impassioned speech monosyllabic words difficulty lies in the way one idea is linked to another rhyme: typically monosyllabic words, verbs increase the sense of energy diction: intellectual rather than sensuous argument, conceit must be proved language & argument drawn from science, law, trade, court & city he treats experience as relative , a matter of individual point of view the personality: multiple, quizzical, inconsistent, eluding, definition even his religious poems: torn btw the same tense self-assertion, self-abasement his poems reveal a scepticism about social conventions, institutions, poetic conventions a sense that received opinions, beliefs may not fully accord with truth & must be tested against experience a conviction that the individual must seek truth for him/herself his poetry the process of seeking truth/exploration (asking questions many of them not answered conclusively) they demand a similar response from the reader asked to struggle with their difficult knotty syntax, concise, ecliptical phrasing; the direction & indirection of the argument; the truths various, contradictory experience is changing constantly

Songs & Sonnets love lyrics mistress wife Johnson C. S. Lewis their charges summed remarkable about S& S draws on many fields of ref.

love poems

The Divine Poems

secular & religious

Holy Sonnets


central concern



flea tradition Donnes variation

our two bloods mingled bee this enjoyes before it wooe cloysterd three sins in killing three Yet thou triumphst/tooke life from thee

Form wit tradition vs. poem conceit

The Flea a popular subject for love poetry throughout Europe in 16th century following a medieval poem (then attributed to Ovid) the poet usually envied the flea its freedom on his mistresss body, its death at her hand while in the ecstasy of its contact with her turning the fact that the flea bites both the man & the woman into a seduction game what matters: s. satisfaction battle of wits & the prize is the womans presumed surrender to the poets demands characteristic of his more flippant, cynical poems on one level it is clearly unrealistic: men & women are not seduced by discussions about fleas on another the sense of reality the way the poem catches the energy of the speaking voice (use of questions & imperatives) the way it accepts that s. relationship can include an element of play, even of competition presented as one half of debate btw man & woman the real audience for Donnes trickery is the reader s.i. was believed to involve the mingling of the blood of each of the partners the flea (unlike the woman) is satisfied without the trouble of a long courtship the flea: a temple in which their marriage has taken place murder, suicide, sacrilege a temple the flea is now a holy place the lady argues that in killing the flea she has demonstrated the poets arguments to be ridiculous, for no harm was done & no sins were committed he turns her triumph against her by claiming that there will, similarly, be no harm done or sin committed when she eventually yields to him 3 stanzas, 9 lines, alternating iambic tetrameter & iambic pentameter, 2 last lines of each stanza pentameter; regular couplets last line rhyming with last couplet AABBCCDDD arguing a point; speakers ability to reverse/switch argument display of control, power, elegance questions patriarchal ideology (female honour = virtue chastity; daughter subordinated to father, wife to husband) 1 central conceit: Donne argues from the fact that the flea has bitten them both to the conclusion that wee almost, nay more than maryed are the woman attributed independence, intelligence the speaker displays control, elegance, power through verbal with & argument ability to reverse, switch his argument in order to answer her shows speaker willing to argue almost any position in order to achieve his end similar use of logic & witty argument in Holy sonnets The Sunne rising tradition: poem/song lovers separated at dawn dramatic elements: dialogue btw the lovers (must part X no) traditionally recognizing the inevitability of parting Donne: no dialogue btw lovers, directly addressing the sun, sustaining the mood of defiance popular in medieval (Chaucer) 16th century: unsatisfied love: aubade not a major genre in Elizabethan lyric; popularity with metaphysical poets Spencer, Sidney, Shakespeare describe appearance of the beloved Donne: no description (except her eyes) no voice, passive 3 stanzas, 10 lines each, (1, 5, 6 iambic tetrameter; 2 dimeter, 3, 4, 7-10 pentameter) rhyme: ABBACDCDE lovers become centre of the universe (displacement of the outside world in favour of the microcosm) argue for the strength & energy of the mutual love (in contrast to courtly Petrarchan frustrated longing, unreciprocated love) centrality, autonomy; miniature world occupy the same position of centrality as the sun (still point time passes around) expresses subjective feeling of lovers nothing else exist except their love: She is all States, all Princes I/ nothing else is antimetabole ( 2 pronouns enclosing all that is valuable; metaphor followed by contrasting statement); using hyperbolic language of absolutism, unity of lovers separating the world of work & politics, belittle them set aside as irrelevant the limiting truths of the external world & the cycle of nature what cannot be asserted through logic asserted through the alchemy of the language hyperboles: emphasize witticism enforce the feeling of illusion & mimic on the speakers side apostrophe (addressing an inanimate object patronizing sun; rough idiom; dramatic form of address, immediacy Busy old fool, unruly sun; Saucy pedantique wretch irony (sun is too ruly); paradox, contrary (1. stanza: confinement X openness, eternity vs. momentary existence) lovers at the centre of a living & attractive world give full weight to their sense that they are, uniquely immune from time they can afford to ignore the various clams of the world outside their bedroom but he also admits into the poem the commonsense recognition that we all live, live in a world governed by time (Must to thy motions lovers seasons run? the presence of such a question reminds us that even the happiest lovers cannot escape being vulnerable to time & change paradoxically, the recklessness with which Donne celebrates the idea that love is the only reality carry an implicit confession of the absurdity of such a claim opens with an irresistible energy the determination to win an argument (with the sun/reader) also triumphant mood of a successful lover (first 3 lines) nothing sleepy about his opening outburst more wide-awake than any of those who are reluctantly setting about their days work not tempted to retreat from the world far too sure of himself to regard the sun as a possible threat to his happiness, treating it instead as an incompetent but harmless servant to be sent about his business poet scoffs at the rags of time as hardly meriting the lovers attention since love is exempt from the pressures of time & change poet know precisely what time it is: its time for schoolboys & apprentices to hurry, for courtiers to escort the King out hunting, for farmers to begin gathering the days harvest though the first stanza denies the significance of anything outside the lovers bedroom 10 lines setting the lovers firmly down in the midst of the day-to-day realities of the ordinary, familiar world 2. stanza absurd conceit defying greatness of the sun his gesture would merely leave him in the dark & the sun shining as warmly as ever Donne knows it answer ready, outwitting with the unexpected reply (winke, but would not lose her sight) Donne gives us the lovers denial of the ordinary world, acknowledges the ultimate impossibility of such defiance & continues, undisturbed to insist on the unique reality of the lovers experience (Whether both the India...one bed lay) extravagance of this felt as a complement to the woman registering his contentment in her presence element of folly in all boasting 3. stanza carrying the extravagance to the point where it collapses (She is all State, and all Princes, I, / Nothing else is.) the 2 previous stanzas leading towards this effect (the question line 4 the challenge in lines 11-14) his boastful claim with such recklessness that it draws attention to itself concedes the absurdity of the boast there is, after all, a world outside the bedroom window its existence has been acknowledged from the first stanza Donne argument in readiness which would prove that this world is merely an illusion (Princes doe but play us; ....All wealth alchimie.) but the whole poem has shown him to be so entirely at home in the world that such arguments would clearly be out of place here relaxes into a mood of humorous condescension re-admits the sun with a forgiving reference to its great age closing lines re-affirms the impossible claim of the poem no now in the manner of one consciously defending a paradox but with rhythm suggesting complete assurance (Shine here to us...) celebrates the supreme reality of love, but refuses to dismiss the world as merely darkness the paradox of the poem lies in his insistence that the two conflicting claims, of love & the world, must both be met in full

genre: aubade

form conceit



HOLY SONNETS similar use of logic & witty argument as in his secular poems mistress replaced by God anxiety & fear that this desire for verbal control, the desire to win the argument itself a sin, mark of his damnation? Sonnet X the argument Death be not proud Death is not all-powerful, since it must eventually give way to eternal life death only a form of sleep, from which we shall awake at the Day of Judgement, when Death will be abolished From rest and sleepe ... / ... much more must flow since so much pleasure results from rest & sleep, which are only as pictures of death, even more pleasure must result from death itself Rest ... deliverie death provides a rest for mans body, & a birth or liberation for his soul And better than thy stroake the sleep brought on by drugs is heavier & more refreshing than that of death the idea conflicts with lines 5-6, which suggests that we will gain more pleasure from the sleep of death Death thou shalt die the idea of Death as an enemy to be destroyed comes from the Bible (Corinthians 15:26, 54-5) it is not human, but Death who shall die incomprehensible but there is logic in it ABBAABBACDDCEE Batter my heart a plea for God to enter & take over the poets life saving him from the power of Satan 1. a potter/craftsman repairing a damaged vessel (the idea of God as the creator) 2. victim of a violent assault in military terms (like a town, which has been briefly captured & ruled by the enemy) 3. victim of a violent assault in s. terms (like a woman compelled to marry against her will) suggesting that God must act in a similarly violent manner to save him, by retaking the town/by ravishing the woman & thus cancelling the wrong marriage literalness with which these images of assault are developed is dramatic Christian Church = Bride of Christ (Bible) Donnes image makes Christ a ravisher, not just a husband as if Donne feels that an image strong enough for other men & women is not powerful enough for him Donne wishes to surrender himself entirely to God he needs to feel that the self claimed by God is still the unique Donne the poem is both: a total surrender to an all-powerful God & an assertion of Donnes personality in what sense will the person who is saved, & granted eternal life in Heaven, still be the person he/she was in this life? Reason your viceroy ... should defend his reason should rule him in Gods name & on Gods behalf untie, or breake that knot againe the knot which is said to bind together the partners in a marriage Gods enthrallment (enslavement) paradoxically enables Donnes freedom, just as Gods ravishment paradoxically enables Donnes chastity vivid tropes suggesting Gods great force Donnes complete inadequacy the imperative mode of Donnes dramatic address convey intense emotional pressure & the urgent need for God to apply his full power & grace to remake the sinful Donne terror, fear, emotional pressure Donnes tormented Calvinistic verse alliteration, sibilance, assonance forceful verbs convey the diving power & violence needed to break Donnes resistance paradox, antithesis: imprison, enthral vs. free; chaste vs. ravish;

paradox rhyme Sonnet XIV 3 main images



Sonnet VII form rhyme allusions

meter schemes volta

At the round earths imagind corners loosely : Petrarchan sonnet octet (present idea, problem, situation) issues of sin & evil sestet (presents answer/comment) argues for repentance, cleans our sinned souls traditionally: ABBAABBACDECDE/CDCDCD/CDCCDC Donne: ABCAACBADEDEFF irregularity, tendency to break rules references to biblical events/events predicted in Revelations 6..., Genesis 6, 9 (flood of Noah, destructive fire) imagind round corners effectiveness of the image 2 ways of seeing the world: old medieval & Biblical vision Revelations 7:1 17th century intellectual iambic pentameter (except line 6: trochaic) places emphasis on these differentiated parts caesurae, alliteration, assonance (fluidity), substitution adds emotional intensity to his argument turning point: (line 9) shifts in attitude natural, inevitable affirms his belief in Calvinism, salvation by grace alone in this poem he imagines the Day of Judgement, & begs for time to be allowed for him to repent his sins the opening creates a powerful visual image of the end of the world never tast deaths woe Christ had promised that some of those who heard him speak would never taste of death (Matthew 16:28) But let them sleepe delay the Day of Judgement seald my pardon Christs death on the Cross purchased an offer of pardon for mankind in general; if John Donne learns how toe repent his sins, his particular pardon will be confirmed/authorised