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How to Write Metaphysical Poetry

Date Posted: 26-08-2014 11:27:49

A group of poets in the 17th century were described by Samuel Johnson as ‘metaphysical poets’ in his book: Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1179-1781). Their poetry was unlike that of their contemporaries and Johnson was in fact criticising them, saying that whilst their wit and intellect was not in question, their proficiency in poetry was, that ‘they were not successful in representing or moving the affections’.


After the Romantic and Victorian poets dominated the 18th and 19th centuries, metaphysical poetry came back into favour in the 20th century when readers praised the same anti-Romantic and intellectual qualities for which it had been derided.


Most of these poets did not know each other or read each others’ poems, but were banded together by the style of their work.


They often wrote about love, philosophy or spirituality, examining religious and moral questions using wit, irony, wordplay and paradox. What also characterised their work was the use of unconventional metaphors, or conceits. Unlike your average metaphor, the comparisons these poets used were much more conceptual and far-fetched.


One of the most well known examples is ‘The Flea’ by John Donne in which a flea bites both the speaker and his lover and thus becomes a conceit arguing that though they are not married, there is no reason to deny him sexually.


Other poets considered to be part of the metaphysical group are:


George Herbert
Andrew Marvell
Henry Vaughan
Abraham Cowley
Thomas Traherne


Fancy trying your hand at a metaphysical poem? Here are a few tips:


  • Firstly decide on your subject. Specificity is the key here – metaphysical poets took one concept or question and honed in on it. They concentrated on the experience of man, typically the profound experiences such as love, religion, pleasure, learning etc.
  • Next come up with a metaphor. The stranger the better. Stay away from clichéd metaphors, or metaphors that fit perfectly. You’re going for the abstract here.
  • Introduce your metaphor early, and run with it. Find ways to prolong the comparison.
  • Metaphysical poems tend to be lyric poems with regular meter and rhyme throughout, though it’s up to you which you use.

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C Boomer

Date Commented: 27/08/2014

Yes indeed very intriguing, I have a kind of metaphysical poem I'd like to submit !