An article outlining metaphysical poetry as defined by the Metaphysical Poetry Society.


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Metaphysical Poets

 

 

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 themes:

* God
* Reality
* Free will vs. determinism
* Consciousness
* Life after death
* The spirit
* The astral realm
* Religion
* Fate
* The meaning of life
* The meaning of death
* What is the "self"

 

Metaphysical vs. Gothic Poetry

Some people take metaphysical to mean spiritual, new age, occult, and it can certainly include those topics, but it should be differentiated from gothic poetry.

Gothic poetry is meant to be dark, spooky, creepy, frightening, etc. Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven is an example of gothic poetry.

Click here to read The Raven

Such is not the case with metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical poetry seeks to understand the deeper aspects of our world, our lives, and our experiences. For instance, the classic metaphysical poem is John Donne's Death, be not proud.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

--John Donne, 1633

In both cases, the poets talk about death, but in Poe's The Raven, it's presented as a spooky story. It's still profound, but it is gothic. Donne's poem examines the nature of death and reaches a conclusion about it, that's what makes it metaphysical.

 

Classic Definition of Metaphysical Poetry

The classic definition of metaphysical poetry is that it is the poetry of a select group of 17th century poets. These poets include:

John Donne
George Herbert
Andrew Marvell
Abraham Cowley
Richard Crashaw
Henry Vaughan

It is important to note that these poets did not associate together, nor did they call their poetry "metaphysical."

The term "metaphysical poets" was first used by Samuel Johnson in is analysis of the poetry of this era. In the chapter on Abraham Cowley in his Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779–81), he coins the term, but it is not clear that he intended this group of boroque poets to be classified as metaphysical poets. Thus there is no real conscensus on what exactly constitutes metaphysical poetry.

For that reason, one of the goals of the metaphysical poetry society is to establish a definition of metaphysical poetry. The definition we give can be summed up in the following paragraph:

 

The Society's Definition of Metaphysical Poetry

Metaphysical poetry is any poem that explores the nature of “a thing in itself.” For instance, a love poem could be a metaphysical poem if it seeks to understand or illustrate the nature of that love, as opposed to merely describing the sense impressions of being in love with a certain person. A poem about death could be metaphysical if it seeks to understand or illustrate the nature of death or life after death. A religious poem that stresses the need for salvation may not be metaphysical, but if it explores the nature of man that requires salvation, or seeks to illustrate the nature of salvation, then it would probably be metaphysical.


A poet typically will not be a strict metaphysical poet, more likely any poet will at times write a metaphysical poem. And then such poetry will often be metaphysical more on a scale of metaphysicality rather than definitively metaphysical. Consider a short poem by this author below:

Last Leaf
By Edward Gordon

Over a creek I cross on a winter’s walk
An oak tree stretches out its barren limb,
Except for a single blackened leaf,
Still Stubborn as yet unfallen.
But weighty raindrops split its stem,
And down it falls, as its last event,
To find it floats on the water below,
For backwood places it’s never been.

This poem could be just a poem about a leaf in the autumn that is late in falling from a tree, or it could be exploring the nature of life, death, and life hereafter. Thus, it is not strictly a metaphysical poem, but exists more on a scale of metaphysicality. Critiquing this poem for myself, I would say it is about a 5 on a scale of 0 through 10, where 0 is not metaphysical and 10 is the most starkly metaphysical.

From the Metaphysical Poetry Society’s perspective, a poem would not be eligible for publication in the Metaphysical Poetry Review, unless the editors agreed that it was at least a 5 on a scale of 0-10 for metaphysicality.

© Copyright, Metaphysical Poetry Society 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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Our goal is to publish a review every year to come out in January or February. It will be based on poetry that is submitted to the society, either directly or in the contests. The best of those submissions will go in the review. In this way, we intend to represent what modern metaphysical poetry is and who the modern metaphysical poets are. We will publish it through CreateSpace and it will be for sale at Amazon.com. The proceeds will be made public and go to fund prizes in the contests and pay for the website expenses. No profit will ever be made from its publication.

 

 

 

 
 

© Copyright, Metaphysical Poetry Society 2018. All Rights Reserved.