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The Metaphysical Poets

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 03 July 2008

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Metaphysical poets, a diffuse group of 17th century writers including John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert.

Mourning the death of a good friend in 1631, the poet Thomas Carew declared:

“The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds
O'erspread, was purg'd by thee; the lazy seeds
Of servile imitation thrown away,
And fresh invention planted.”

The gardener in question was a poet, John Donne, and from his fresh invention blossomed a group of 17th century writers called the metaphysical poets. Concerned with sex and death, with science and empire, the metaphysical poets challenged the conventions of Elizabethan poetry with drama and with wit. And they showed that English, like Italian and French, was capable of true poetry.
Unashamedly modern, they were saluted by another great modernist, T.S. Eliot, who admired their genius for imagery, the freshness of their language and the drama of their poetic character.

But what do we mean by metaphysical poetry, how did it reflect an age of drama and discovery and do poets as different as John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert really belong together in the canon of English literature?

With Tom Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London; Julie Sanders, Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham; and Tom Cain, Professor of Early Modern Literature at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne

  • Further Reading

    Metaphysical Poetry ed. Colin Burrow (London: Penguin, 2006)

    John Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art rev. edn (London: Faber, 1990)

    Stevie Davies, John Donne Writers and Their Work series (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1994)

    T. S. Eliot, ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ and ‘Andrew Marvell’, both contained in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot ed. Frank Kermode (London: Faber, 1975)

    Achsah Guibbory, ‘John Donne’ in The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry from Donne to Marvell ed. Thomas N. Corns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 123-47

    Andrew Hadfield, ‘Donne’s Songs and Sonets and Artistic Identity’, in Early Modern English Poetry: A Critical Companion ed. Patrick Cheney, Andrew Hadfield, and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 206-16

    Thomas Healy, ‘ “Dark all without it knits”: Vision and Authority in Marvell’s Upon Appleton House’ in Literature and the English Civil War ed. Thomas Healey and Jonathan Sawday (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 170-88

    Thomas Healy, ‘Marvell and Pastoral’ in Early Modern English Poetry: A Critical Companion ed. Patrick Cheney, Andrew Hadfield, and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 302-14

    Thomas Healy (Ed), Longman Critical Reader: Andrew Marvell, (1998)

  • .

    Annabel Patterson, Andrew Marvell Writers and Their Work series (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1994)

    Paul Salzman, Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), esp. Chapter 7: ‘Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn’, pp. 176-99

    Michael Schoenfeldt, ‘George Herbert, God, and King’, in Early Modern English Poetry: A Critical Companion ed. Patrick Cheney, Andrew Hadfield, and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 264-77

    Michael Schoenfeldt, Prayer and Power: George Herbert and Renaissance Courtship, (1991)

    Helen Wilcox, ‘George Herbert’ in The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry from Donne to Marvell ed. Thomas N. Corns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 183-99

    Chana Bloch, Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible, (1985)

    Barbara Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and Seventeenth Century Religious Lyric, (1979)

    Arthur Marotti, John Donne: Coterie Poet, (1986)

    Louis Martz, The Poetry of Meditation, (1954)

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