Top 5 Metaphysical Poets
One of the great studies of metaphysical expression is the art of poetry. In the 17th century, there were a group of English poets, said to not know one another, musing on topics such as love and religion. These poets used metaphysical concepts and ideas in their poetry, and contemplated on the same ideas that people who practice metaphysics think about today.
Known for the implementation of conceits, an extended analogy that doesn’t have a defined comparison between two known things, metaphysical poets used this literary device frequently to encourage people to think deeper or to ponder the ideas put forth in the poem more.
Here are five famous metaphysical poets that changed the world of poetry forever:
1. John Donne- The most famous metaphysical poet, by most accounts, is John Donne. Born in 1572, John Donne grew up to be not only a famous poet but also a well respected lawyer and priest. Forced to pursue a papal career by King James I, John Donne secretly married Anne More and fathered twelve children anyway.
Common themes in John Donne’s work are love, passion, lust, and the explorations of religion. Several of his later poems explored the idea of what a true religion might be as compared to the one held by the English church. He cautioned against following church doctrine because someone said so, and encouraged religious exploration and the exploration of what spirituality meant to each person. John Donne was also known for his erotic elegies.
2. George Herbert- Born in 1593 in Montgomery, Whales, George Herbert wrote The Temple, The Country Parson, Jacula Prudentum, and several shorter works. George Herbert straddled both the secular and religious world and wrote poetry about his thoughts on both subcultures throughout his time in each. Originally a secularist as the Public Orator of Trinity College in Cambridge, George Herbert eventually took orders from the Holy Church of England and became a priest.
His work focuses on religious themes and the need to do good works. A strong debate at the time focused on how to get to religious salvation: through good works of through prayer. George Herbert both fought for the good works argument in his poetry, and displayed his ideas by caring for all his parishioners deeply. Many of his more well known poems have been turned into hymns such as “King of Glory, King of Peace” and “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing.”
3. Andrew Marvell- Born in Winestead, England in 1621, Andrew Marvell was not only a poet but also a House of Commons member from various time periods in between 1659 and 1678.
A master at the conceit, Andrew Marvell wrote the famous poem “To His Coy Mistress” which is a poem encouraging a woman to seize the moment and engage in lustful activity with him because the future is unknown. Andrew Marvell’s majority of poems are about lust, love, and romantic relationships. In addition to his poetry, Andrew Marvell wrote several works of prose and satire criticizing the current English government system and the Catholic church. He felt that all aspects of life did not need to be run by the church, and that religion and spirituality were a personal journey.
4. Abraham Cowley- Born in London in 1618, Abraham Cowley was one of the more popular metaphysical poets at the time of publishing in the England area. He started writing poetry as a child and is well known for some of his early work such as “Constantia and Philetus,” and “Elegy on the Death of Dudley, Lord Carlton.” Abraham was heavily involved in supporting the royalists and wrote frequently of metaphysical topics in his work as well as the exploration of death and the process of dying.
5. Richard Crashaw- Born in 1613 in the heart of London, Richard Crashaw is a well known metaphysical poet with works such as “Steps to the Temple,” “Delights of the Muses,” and “Carmen Deo Nostro.” A large theme in Richard Crashaw’s poetry is the questioning of different sects of Christianity and an exploration of faith as a concept.
Richard Crashaw’s work frequently compares beautiful or amazing sights seen in nature to spiritual ideas and connects nature and the spirit quite often.
These poets, and the works that they have created, have inspired many contemporary metaphysical poets today as well as poets throughout history. The common themes of love and religion are echoed through metaphysical philosophy and thought, and are explored throughout the works of these poets.