Ans. According to conventional theory, the term ‘metaphysical’ refers to a kind of poetry dealing with metaphysical subjects like the nature of the universe, the movement of the stars and planets, the creation of man and his relation with the universe, the nature of soul and its function in the body made of flesh and blood and the whole relationship of man with God.
But Donne is a metaphysical love poet in a different sense. He displayed an abundance of wit and conceit, made use of over elaborate similes and metaphors drawn from remote and unfamiliar sources. His images are logical and intellectual rather than sensuous and conventional.
So, Donne is called a metaphysical love poet because of his technique of writing.
The most distinctive feature of the metaphysical poetry is their imagery, in which Donne is almost invariably unusual, striking, often breathtaking but sometimes far-fetched and fantastic. However, Donne’s metaphysical love poetry is marked by such characteristics as wit, conceit, ratiocination, blend of passion and thought, hyperbole, imagery and his style of expression in dramatic and colloquial tones.
Wit may be explained as the saying of fine sparkling things which startle and amuse. It is an intellectual activity which consists in the poet’s perception of similarity in dissimilarities and the ingenuity with which he brings together and combines opposites whether in words or ideas. Donne’s wit may be found in his use of puns, wordplay, oxymoron, paradox etc. For example, his wit is seen in his reference to the king’s real and his stamped face in ‘The Canonization’:
“Observe his honour, or his grace,
Or the King’s real, or his stamped face.”
Conceit is basically a simile or a comparison between two dissimilar things. According to Dr. Johnson, the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together in a conceit. This kind of comparison is highly exaggerated, fantastic and far-fetched and it gives rise to an image. The most famous and striking conceit of Donne is the comparison of a man who travels and his beloved who stays to a pair of compasses in ‘A Valediction : Forbidding Mourning’:
“If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.”
We find a peculiar blend of passion and thought, feeling and ratiocination. Each of his love poem arises out of a particular emotion but he explains that emotion with the help of his intellect.
The use of dramatic monologue is another remarkable feature of Donne’s metaphysical love poetry. Every lyric of Donne is a piece of personal drama and there is always a dialogue or at least a monologue. For example, his ‘The Canonization’ starts with a dialogue:
“For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love”
We can conclude by considering all the characteristics of Donne’s poetry as discussed above that Donne is perfectly a metaphysical love poet by virtue of his learning and intellect, displaying an abundance of wits and conceits and his blend of passion and thought.