Metaphysical Poetry – 1600-1660
Metaphysical Poetry – 1600-1660
You’ve probably heard lame love poems or songs comparing love to a flower — probably a rose — but what about love being compared to…a compass? Not the Boy-Scout-finds-north compass, even, but one of those gizmos you used in math class to draw a good circle. Or what about the soul? You’ve probably heard it being compared to breath, light, spirit, and so on — but what about to a drop of dew?
The genius of metaphysical poetry is in the exuberance and delight the poets take in these startling, delightfully science-geeky comparisons of unlike things. They took the idea of a simple metaphor (e.g., “My soul is a drop of dew”) and essentially put it on steroids to make what we call the “metaphysical conceit,” a kind of super-metaphor in which the poet explores what that might really mean, to compare the soul to a dewdrop or one’s love to a compass.
NOTE: Please make sure you take notes on all background reading assignments. You will be most glad you did so. I will give occasional open-note quizzes, so taking notes will definitely help your understanding. All of these assignments (unless otherwise specified) refer to your textbook, The Language of Literature.
Note: Please be aware that some of the resources I have included are Internet links and content may change. If the links are no longer valid, please contact me to let me know as soon as possible. As of this writing, all links are classroom-appropriate; however, if you find content on the sites has changed, please again inform me immediately. Thanks!!
NOTE: Readings are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.” They are given to help you understand the course material. If you’re having a hard time understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you. If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
- Please read the overview on p. 449-450. The “Elements of Metaphysical Poetry” are especially helpful.
- Please read the background on John Donne, p. 451 and p. 457.
- OPTIONAL: Please also read the background on Donne here.
- Please read John Donne’s 1633 poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” p. 452-453.
- Please read Donne’s 1624 essay “Meditation 17,” p. 455.
- OPTIONAL: Read these helpful discussion questions on “The Flea,” “Meditation 17,” and “A Valediction…” here.
- Please read John Donne’s 1633 poem “The Flea.” Note: This poem is not in your text; please click on the link. There will be a test on this poem.
- Please read Abraham Cowley’s 1656 poem “My Picture.” Note: The word “likeness” means “picture.” There will be a test on this poem.
- Please read Andrew Marvell’s mid-1600’s poem “On a Drop of Dew” NOTE: There will be a test on this material.
- OPTIONAL: Please read John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 10,” p. 454.
- OPTIONAL: Please read Donne’s “Batter My Heart, Three- Personed God.”
Assorted Questions NOTE: We will do these worksheets in class. They are provided here for your convenience and reflection. These two worksheets are designed to help you work through these two poems slowly, essentially line by line. That will, I hope, develop your “poetry muscle.”
Resources for the Media-Minded
NOTE: Resources are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.” Optional resources, like the optional readings, are just that — optional. They are there for your convenience and to help expand your understanding of the course material. If you’re having a hard time understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you. If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at email@example.com with your suggestions.
- OPTIONAL: Helpful study guide for metaphysical poetry!