What Does Metaphysical Poetry Means?

Metaphysical poetry is not regarded as a genre of poetry. In fact the main poets of this group didn’t read each other’s work and didn’t know that they were even part of a classification.

“Metaphysical Poets” is a term coined by poet & critic Samuel Johnson, who describes a loose group of English lyric poets of the 17th century, whose work was characterised by ample use of conceits, guess & speculation about topics such as love, religion etc.

These poets were not formally affiliated; most of them did not know each other or read each other’s work. Metaphysical poetry is extremely intelligent & witty. It is deeply religious but is also ironical.

Metaphysical poetry refers to a literary movement that emerged in the 17th century in England. It is characterized by complex and intellectualized verse, marked by intricate metaphors, extended conceits, paradoxes, and philosophical musings. The term “metaphysical” was coined by Samuel Johnson in the 18th century to describe a group of poets who shared similar poetic techniques and philosophical concerns. The poets associated with this movement include John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Richard Crashaw, among others.

What Does Metaphysical Mean?

The word ‘meta’ means ‘after,’ so the literal translation of ‘metaphysical’ is ‘after the physical. Basically, metaphysics deals with questions that can’t be explained by science. It questions the nature of reality in a philosophical way. Here are some common metaphysical questions:

  • Does God exist?
  • Is there a difference between the way things appear to us and the way they really are? Essentially, what is the difference between reality and perception?
  • Is everything that happens already predetermined? If so, then is free choice non-existent?
  • Is consciousness limited to the brain?

Metaphysics can cover a broad range of topics from religious to consciousness; however, all the questions about metaphysics ponder the nature of reality. And of course, there is no one correct answer to any of these questions. Metaphysics is about exploration and philosophy, not about science and math.

Features of Metaphysical Poetry:

The group of metaphysical poets that we mentioned earlier is obviously not the only poets or philosophers or writers that deal with metaphysical questions. There are other more specific characteristics that prompted Johnson to place the 17th-century poets together.

Perhaps the most common characteristic is that metaphysical poetry contained large doses of wit. In fact, although the poets were examining serious questions about the existence of God or whether a human could possibly perceive the world, the poets were sure to ponder those questions with humor. Metaphysical poetry also sought to shock the reader and wake him or her up from his or her normal existence in order to question the unquestionable. The poetry often mixed ordinary speech with paradoxes and puns. The results were strange, comparing unlikely things, such as lovers to a compass or the soul to a drop of dew. These weird comparisons were called conceits.

Metaphysical poetry also explored a few common themes. They all had a religious sentiment. In addition, many of the poems explored the theme of carpe diem (seize the day) and investigated the humanity of life.

Also Read : 


Following are the characteristics of Metaphysical Poetry:


Metaphysical poetry is spiritual & has often religious themes. Moreover, it focuses on love, as the union of soul.

Literary Devices:

Metaphysical poetry uses metaphors, puns, paradoxes & meter to create drama & tension. In addition, Metaphysical poetry uses scientific, medical & legal words & phrases to create arguments about the philosophical aspect of life.


Metaphysical poets were men of high intellect. They were all graduated from Oxford University, Cambridge University or they studied at one of the Inns of Court in the city of London. With the help of their vast knowledge, they presented new ideas & stories to their readers.


Metaphysical poetry is considered highly ambiguous & obscure due to high intellect & knowledge of metaphysical poets. The poetry is greatly challenging to understand at the first reading. It needs full concentration & full attention to getting to the roots of the matter.

Short Poems:

Metaphysical poetry is considered to be brief & concise. Every line conveys a lot of meanings in a few words. Every word is adjusted in every line like a brick in a wall & conveys the message of the author. Hence there is no wastage of words.

Sayings in the Poetry:

Metaphysical poetry is a vast collection of maxims & sayings. Thus epigrammatic quality is part & parcel of the metaphysical poetry. John Donne is a pioneer in this regard.

Metaphysical Conceits:

A significant feature of the metaphysical poetry is the use of metaphysical conceits. It is the unique quality of metaphysical poetry. A conceit is a comparison of two dissimilar things, which may have very little in common. E.g. Abraham Cowley in his poem “The Mistress” compares his love for ladies to his habit of travelling in various countries of the world.


Originality is the hallmark of metaphysical poets. All the metaphysical poets were unique & original in their ideas & thoughts. They didn’t follow the path of their contemporary poets. They stood against their contemporaries & followed their own way of writing poetry.


Metaphysical wit is also a noteworthy feature of metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical wit is the expression of one’s idea & thoughts, using aptly & technically, the words & various figures of speech in such a manner as to provide pleasure to the readers. John Donne is called the “Monarch of Wit” in the history of metaphysical poetry.

Platonic Love:

Platonic love is another feature of metaphysical poetry. Platonic love means, spiritual love, which is free from elements of physical love.

In conclusion,

Metaphysical poetry emerged as a distinctive literary movement in the 17th century in England. Its poets, including John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Richard Crashaw, sought to explore profound questions about existence, spirituality, love, and human emotions. Through their use of complex metaphors, extended conceits, wit, and wordplay, they created intellectually engaging and intricate poems.



Leave a Comment