Edward Taylor's Meditations and Metaphysical Verse

Characteristics of "Metaphysical" Poetry

  • Irregular in style, structure, and logic; a deliberate chaos
  • Colloquial word choice, tone, and rhythms
  • Deliberately complex, even obscure: "Darke Texts Needs Notes"
  • Uses contemporary allusions rather than classical ones
  • Strong use of irony, paradox, hyperbole, and puns
  • Powerful, internalized emotions often present
  • Often rejects the conventions of Petrarch, Spenser, and Neo-Platonism

metaphysical conceit: an unusual analogy, often esoteric or ingenious, that relates distant, even alien, areas of knowledge.  They are frequently developed in detail, challenging surface logic, and border on the bizarre or grotesque.

Three Potential Models for the Metaphysical Style

  • The Baroque: The architectural and artistic style that blended the Renaissance stress on formal and orderly with the Picturesque emphasis on the fantastic and eccentric.  It stresses energy, discord, rapid movement, repetition, and asymmetry.

[Click here to look at two examples of Baroque art: a Baroque ceiling nave and The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.]

  • The Emblem Book: Sixteenth and seventeenth-century collections of symbolic pictures, often with mottoes and commentary that explained the meaning of pictures.  Some argue that the often highly cerebral symbols, as well as juxtapositioning of picture and motto, are akin to the metaphysical style.

[Click here to look at  Francis Quarles: Emblems, divine and moral, together with Hieroglyphics of the life of man, the most influential emblem book in seventeenth-century England.]

  • The Concettismo: An Italian style of poetry in which the poet "discovers and expresses the universal analogies binding the universe together." (Joseph Anthony Mazzeo)