John Donne as a Metaphysical Poet
In brief the term 'Metaphysical Poetry' implies the characteristics of complexity, intellectual tone, abundance of subtle wit, fusion of intellect and emotion, colloquial argumentative tone, conceits (always witty and fantastic), scholarly allusions, dramatic tone, and philosophic or reflective element.
Donne's Fondness for Conceits
This is the major characteristic of metaphysical poetry. Donne often employs fantastic comparisons. The most famous and striking one is the comparison of the lovers to a pair of compasses in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. A clever, though obvious conceit is employed in The Flea' where the insect is called the marriage-bed and the marriage-temple of the lovers because it has bitten them and sucked their blood.
Donne's Wit, Striking and Subtle
No doubt, the conceits especially display a formidable wit. So do the various allusions and images relating to practically all areas of nature, art and learning. Allusions to medicine, cosmology, ancient myth, contemporary discoveries, history, and art abound in Donne's poetry. In The Legacy, the lover is his own 'executor and legacy'. Such paradoxical statements are to be found in several other poems. In Death, be not Proud, he says ‘Death thou shalt die’. Such is the display of Donne's wit.
Donne's Combination of Passion and Thoughts
Combination of passions and thoughts is another form of wit. There is in Donne's poetry an intellectual analysis of emotions. Every lyric arises out of some emotional situation, but the emotion is not merely expressed; it is analyzed. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning proves that lovers need not mourn at parting. The Canonization establishes that lovers are saints of love.
Donne's Argumentation and Reasoning
Argumentation and reasoning balance the passion in Donne's poems. No one can deny the passion in The Sun Rising, but there is also a plenty of argumentation to prove that the sun has no power over the lovers, as love knows no season or clime.
Donne's Colloquial Style
Donne's colloquial style is especially apparent in the abrupt, conversational opening of many of his poems. For instance
For God's sake hold thy tongue, and let me love
Busy old fool, unruly sun
(The Sun Rising)
Donne asserts our attention both by the content and the dramatic style of his poetry.
Because of these characteristics, John Donne is entitled a metaphysical poet. Grierson aptly sums up:
Donne is metaphysical not only by virtue of his scholasticism but by the deep reflective interest in the experiences of which his poetry is the expression, the new psychological curiosity with which he writes of love and religion.