John Donne as A Metaphysical Poet | What is Metaphysical Poetry?

John Donne as A Metaphysical Poet - Metaphysical Poetry

In metaphysical poetry, if someone’s name is alive even today then it is of John Donne. Everyone knows that John Donne is a metaphysical poet because every element of metaphysical poetry exists in his poems. Every critic appreciated the contribution of John Donne in metaphysical poetry. He was the one, who created new kind of poetry in those days when everyone was following the tradition. Donne’s poetry is remarkable but only metaphysics does not make it remarkable. There are certainly other elements, which are there in his poetry and make John Donne famous among other metaphysical poet s of his era. Ben Jonson also belonged to the metaphysical school of poetry yet his name comes after John Donne.

However, there is no denying the fact that metaphysical elements in Donne’s poetry make him famous among other poets. If we want to know about John Donne and metaphysics poetry then we first have to know about the second kind of poetry, which was being written before John Donne.

Traditional Poetry Vs. Metaphysical Poetry    

We have learned that before Donne, everyone was following the convention. The question here arises that what was that convention and tradition? Well, the answer is; every poet was copying poetry instead of presenting new ideas through imitation. There were three traditions which were being followed; Spenserian, Arcadian, and Petrarchan. John Donne and Ben Jonson were against those traditions. Conventional poetry lacked emotions; therefore, it was artificial. So, there was no originality in it. John Donne, on the other hand, presented his own emotions. Every poem, by John Donne, reveals his autobiography yet it is universal in nature. Human emotions and feelings have not been changed so far; therefore, everyone felt that Donne is talking about him. Readers were greatly impressed by his work. Metaphysical poetry starts from John Donne, therefore, he is the best metaphysical poet.

What is Metaphysical Poetry?

It is also in our knowledge that “meta” means beyond and “physics” means physical nature. In simple words, metaphysical poetry is that in which a poet remains away from the description of physical intimacy. We hardly see any poem by John Donne, in which he talks about the physical beauty of any woman. In his “Love Poems”, he demonstrates his feelings and emotion by using precise and exact words yet he has never praised any woman’s physical beauty. Moreover, this kind of poetry is away from imagination. Like John Keats, he does not create a world of his own in his mind; instead, he puts reality in front of his readers; nevertheless, his metaphors are far-fetched and complex in nature. Furthermore, there are some elements of metaphysical poetry, which are frequent in every poem of Donne. Following are some attributes, which make John Donne a good metaphysical poet.

Metaphysical poetry:-

  • Is free from artificiality
  • Contains conceits and hyperboles
  • Is intellectual
  • always remains away from female physique
  • Is about emotions and psychological experiences

John Donne as Metaphysical Poet:

John Donne, indeed, is a metaphysical poet but many critics doubt it. It is because Donne’s poetry is limited to emotions, whereas in conventional terms, metaphysical poems are long and poetry of metaphysics is about the philosophical system of the universe. Donne’s poetry is personal in nature; there is no philosophy in it; if it has any philosophy then it is only of love. On the other hand, many critics defended John Donne. For instance, Grierson points out:-

“Donne is metaphysical not only by virtue of his scholasticism but by his 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.”


In his eyes, John Donne has created new kind of metaphysical poetry, which has psychological curiosity and it is based on personal experiences. Thereby, he considers John Donne a metaphysical poet.

Donne’s poetry is Free from Physics:

Although Donne presents his emotions in his poems yet he never appreciated the physical beauty of any woman. In “Love Poems”, he talks about worldly love and his beloved Anne Moore but the readers can never find any poem in which he talks about the physical beauty of his beloved. As far as later poems of John Donne are concerned, they are spiritual and divine. In them, there is no concept of artificial beauty. To differentiate Donne from other poets, let’s take an example. In “Rape of the Lock”, Alexander Pope in the description of Belinda writes words about his physical look but in Donne’s poetry, this kind of appreciation can never be found. Thus, John Donne keeps himself away from the appraisal of artificial beauty of women.

John Donne’s Intellectualism and Wit make him Metaphysical Poet:

Metaphysical poetry can hardly be separated from wit ; both these things are interlinked. Every poet of metaphysics intellectually describes things. Donne gives arguments after arguments to support his stance. Neither exaggeration nor artificiality is there in John Donne’s poetry. He has used such words which are acceptable by readers. His imagery is clean. He does not write such words, which are unnecessary. Furthermore, he begins his poems abruptly in a colloquial manner in order to get the attention of his readers. Thus, Donne’s wit is significant to make him the best metaphysics poet of every era.

Conceits and Hyperboles:

Conceits are peculiar elements of Donne’s poetry. He uses farfetched examples to clear his stance to his readers. For instance in “Valediction: Forbidden Mourning”, he shows the separation of two lovers through two legs of a compass, who apparently are away but in reality, they are part of each other; they cannot go away. Similarly, in “Valediction: Of Weeping”, he takes an example of moon and tides. He compares his beloved to the moon and himself to tides. Thus, every poem of John Donne is enriched with conceits and hyperboles. Abundancy of these elements in the poetry of John Donne helps us to remember him first as a metaphysical poet.

To conclude, John Donne without any doubt is a metaphysical poet. Nevertheless, his poetry is different from other metaphysical poets of his era. He uses conceits; his remarks are witty; there is no artificiality in his poems; his demonstration is fresh and original. In fact, he only presents his emotions and personal experiences of his life. All these elements make his poetry remarkable and him best metaphysical poet of every era.

Related Questions:

  • What is meant by metaphysical poetry? Illustrate Donne’s use of metaphysical imagery from his poems you have read.
  • Write a comprehensive note on John Donne as a Metaphysical Poet.
  • Do you agree to Dr. Johnson’s views that in metaphysical poetry John Donne has yoked together heterogeneous ideas by violence?
  • It is a term applied to far-fetched literary comparison. It was employed by the metaphysical poets of the 17th century like Donne and Cowley. Discuss
  • Discuss Donne as a metaphysical poet.