Who were the Metaphysicals?

The Metaphysical poets:

  • Wrote between 1590 and 1680.
  • They did not call themselves Metaphysicals but were given this name by later writers because their poetry dealt with philosophical speculation and abstract ideas (see Literary context: What is Metaphysical poetry?).
  • They were mostly influenced by John Donne although he made no attempt to gather a group of poets round him.


In his poem, Elegy upon the Death of Dr. John Donne, Thomas Carew (1594-1640) talks of Donne renewing English poetry from a set of worn-out conventions and putting back some intellectual vigour or ‘masculine expression' as he terms it in language we would nowadays see as slightly sexist. He feels Donne's poetry is quite revolutionary.

Ignored for centuries

In fact, the Metaphysical poets were considered too revolutionary for several centuries afterwards and their work was largely ignored, apart from George Herbert's devotional verse. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that they were rediscovered. Now they form the set texts of many exam boards.

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