Literature of 17th Century: The Metaphysical Poets

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the seventeenth century, especially in the period of the English Revolution, there were confusion in all areas of life like religion, science, politics, domestic relations, and culture. This confusion was reflected in the literature of the era, which also registered a heightened focus on and analysis of the self and the personal life. Writers of this period offer their own philosophies as evidence of the issues. John Donne and John Milton are specific examples of authors of this era who present English issues and perspectives in their works. Love, religion, and political views are the common themes between these two authors. The seventeenth century saw the emergence of a group of poets who wrote in a witty and complicated style. The metaphysical poets were a significant group of seventeenth-century writers. The term ‘meta’ means ”after”, so the literal translation of metaphysical is ”after the physical.” Basically, metaphysics deals with questions that cannot be explained by science. Metaphysics questions the nature of reality in a philosophical way. Metaphysical poems have common characteristics: all of them are highly intellectualized, use rather strange imagery, use frequent paradoxes and involve complicated thought. The poetry often mixed ordinary speech with puns and paradoxes. The results were strange, comparing unexpected things, such as lovers to a compass or the soul to a drop of dew. These strange comparisons were called conceits. This paper aims to show an analysis of themes of seventeenth-century poems.

Ben Jonson’s Song:

To Celia is a love poem in which a lover addresses his woman in an attempt to encourage her to express her love for him. Jonson uses conventional imagery, such as eyes, roses, and wine, but uses them in imaginative ways. The poet’s feelings is so intense for Celia and hers for him, he hopes that she need only drink to him with a loving gaze. For his turn, the poet says, he needs no wine to inspire his love, for it is his soul that thirsts.

”Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;

Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I’ll not look for wine.”

There are two important sub-theme under the major theme of love. One is the spirituality of love and another is physicality the of love. The first stanza introduces the spiritual aspect of love that generates from the soul of the poetic persona, here the poet himself. The speaker talks about the soul and reveals that love has something spiritual and divine. The speaker asks his lover to drink to him with only her eyes. The emotional depths of their relationship are characterized by these lines. The speaker wants his lover to dedicate herself entirely to him and with her eyes, indulge in him as she would a drink. The next line describes what it is he will give back to her if she decides to commit herself entirely. The speaker moves on from the idea of communicating through glances in the next lines as he tells his lover she is welcome to “leave a kiss…in the cup.” It is here that he will look for her, knowing well there will be no wine to drink. The poet has chosen to connect the indulgence of drink with that of love. These two acts, ways of being, and emotional states are the same.

In the second stanza, when the poet tries to indulge in the physicality of love, he gets dejected. The “rosy wreath” is a symbol representing this physical aspect. The poet tries to eternalize a thing vulnerable to withering. Therefore, the lady returned the gift in the end but also sent an implicit message of rejection of such kind of union. For this reason, the poet again takes recourse to spiritual love as it sustains even though the lovers are physically far enough or not united.

”I sent thee late a rosy wreath,

Not so much honoring thee

As giving it a hope, that there

It could not withered be.”

Andrew Marvell`s poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’:

Andrew Marvell, in ‘To His Coy Mistress’, presents physical love. This is probably the best-known poem of Andrew Marvell. The main theme in the poem is love. It is a love poem in which he has sexualized love and the speaker offers a strong plea for the beloved to soften towards him. The lover, who may be the poet himself, creates a very strong case and supports it with arguments that no sensible woman can refuse. Therefore, the poem has what is known as a carpe diem theme. Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase meaning enjoy the moment. The full Latin sentence is ‘Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero’ which means: ‘Enjoy the present day, trusting the least possible to the future’. From the beginning to the end of the poem, the poet presents a picture of physical love. According to the poet, human life is rather transient and within the transient moment of life, pleasures of love should be enjoyed fully. This is why the soft gives a strong appeal to his beloved to be softened towards him and without any hesitation to grand his sexual favor. Then the poet says that her coyness would be no crime if they had enough time. Here the poet says,

‘Had we but World enough Time

This coyness Lady were no crime

We would sit down, and think which way

To walk, and pass our long Loves Day’.

The poet also says that if they had enough time, he would have started loving her ten years before the great flood during Noah’s time. As in this poem, Marvell has presented physical love, a lot of conceits and imageries of physical nature are found. Such physical reference is presented when the poet says that he is ready to spend hundreds and thousand years praising his beloved’s physical body. The poet says,

‘Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.’

Then the poet expresses his most sexual tendency by shocking imagery to make his beloved convince that she should enjoy the present day before going to the grave and he also says that in the grave there will be nobody to satisfy the desires of lust, although the grave is a private place. The poet concludes that if the lovers cannot stop the passage of time, they can at least quicken its speed so as to enjoy as much of pleasures as possible, saying, ‘Yet we will make him run’.

John Donne`s A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning:

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, by John Donne, is concerned with the love between the speaker and his significant other. True love will continue on, even after death is the main theme of the poem. Lines one and two illustrate the notion of an afterlife. ‘As virtuous men pass mildly away, And whisper to their souls to go…’.

Essentially, it implies that we have souls and that souls are part of human beings that are immortal. Their love goes beyond the physical; it is a spiritual love that transcends the material world and the limitations of their own bodies. The speaker argues that even though he will be separated from his love because of distance and circumstance, their love will remain real and pure. He develops this argument by crafting metaphors that define their love as separate from their physical bodies. Their love is between their two minds and cannot be compromised or decreased by physical distance. He develops this theme by comparing his love with the legs of a mathematical compass to show that they are two separate entities but connected and whole. He further supports his ideas by crafting many metaphors to explain that their love is not limited to physical attraction. It rather rests in their souls. Therefore, sadness and mourning are not appropriate for them.

He says that he is going to part with his beloved, but they should not mourn this short gap. He believes that mourning and crying will affect their sacred love badly. According to the poet, earthly lovers think that separation may affect their affection and so they fear this. However, Donne and his beloved love each other spiritually as well as physically. They are least bothered about the separation. Their two souls become one and will always be united even when their bodies are apart. Therefore, mourning is inappropriate when souls are attached for good. However, what enchants the reader is the metaphorical comparison he draws to show his unbound love for his beloved.

In conclusion, all the authors have this view about love, it is never changed, it does not alter with time, and no matter where one might be, love grows in a person´s soul. All authors have different words to describe their views of love, though they agree on some points. Donne tells his beloved that distance will not change the way they both feel. He compares the love he shares with his beloved to the feet of a compass; even though one of the feet moves, the other stays as it is fixed in the center. Thus separation is just physical because two souls together will never be apart. Jonson´s Song to Celia has two comparisons that make the loving person remember his beloved. First, he compares the lady with the taste of wine. Nothing will be better than her taste. Second, roses. Roses have perfume and they fade. Not his love for her and her perfume is eternal. Marvell wrote this poem in the classical tradition of a Latin love elegy, in which the speaker praises his mistress or lover through the motif of carpe diem. He discusses at length what love might look like if he and his mistress had unlimited amounts of time to develop their affection.


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