The Metaphysical Poets Summary | The Metaphysical Poets by T S Eliot – Summary | Try Dot Fulfil

The Metaphysical Poets Summary, The Metaphysical Poets by T S Eliot – Summary, Try Dot Fulfil, Intellectual Poets vs Reflective Poets, Unification of Sensibility and Dissociation of Sensibility, The metaphysical Poets and the Poets of Modern Age.


  • Name of the treatise: The Metaphysical Poets.
  • Author: T.S. Eliot (Thomas Stearns Eliot)
  • Norm of the writing: Critical Essay.
  • It was written as a review of the book "Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century".
  • It was published in: London Times Literary Supplement (1921).
  • Topics discussed in this essay: Metaphysical Poetry, Unification of Sensibility, Dissociation of Sensibility, Metaphysical Poets and Modern Age.


The Metaphysical Poets Summary | The Metaphysical Poets by T S Eliot – Summary | Try Dot Fulfil
The Metaphysical Poets Summary | Try Dot Fulfil

The Metaphysical Poets Summary:

This essay is originally a review work. T.S Eliot wrote it to address the book ‘Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century.’ In this essay, the critic argues about the definition of metaphysical poetry. He also added the term ‘Dissociation of Sensibility’ in his discussion. Then, he related the modern poets with the metaphysical poets. He answered three points regarding metaphysical poetry in this writing. They are:

1. To what extent the metaphysical form a school.

2. How far is it a digression from the chain of precedent writers?

3. Is it significant in this modern age to study metaphysical poets?


The Metaphysical Poetry - Definition: The Metaphysical Poets Summary:

T.S. Eliot argues on the definition of metaphysical poetry. In his opinion, providing a common definition of metaphysical poetry is not easy. It is also difficult to define who the metaphysical poets are and which of their writings will be considered as ‘Metaphysical’. Some poets are known as metaphysical poets, they are: Donne, Cowley, Crashaw, Vaughan, Herbert. But they didn’t use any common simile, metaphor or conceit for which they could be traced as metaphysical.

Specifically John Donne used comparison which sometimes may have characteristics of ‘metaphysical’. He used sudden contrasts and brief words as in comparing two lovers to a pair of compasses.


Johnson’s Definition of Metaphysical Poetry:

Dr. Johnson is one of the initial critics who developed the term ‘metaphysical’. He defined metaphysical poetry by judging some poets like Donne, Cleveland and Cowley. Johnson’s definition of metaphysical poetry was built basing in its faults. Dr. Johnson defined metaphysical poetry by this remark,

“The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.”

He scolded metaphysical poets by mentioning that the ‘ideas’ are ‘yoked’ but are not ‘united’ in their poetry. Eliot remarks about this that the yoking of ideas is practiced by several poets even by Johnson himself. Eliot also claims that Dr. Johnson is failed in defining metaphysical poetry.


Eliot’s definition of Metaphysical Poets:

T.S. Eliot rejected to call these poets metaphysical, rather he addressed them as ‘the poets of the 17th century’ as they were in the direct line of the precedent period. He also revered them for their power of unification.  The metaphysical poets united ‘thought’ and ‘feeling’, two abstract notion of human beings. The metaphysical poets had a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience and they were simple, artificial and difficult.  Then he divided the poets into two sorts, ‘intellectual poets’ and ‘reflective poets’.

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Intellectual Poets vs Reflective Poets:

Eliot made a comparison between the poets of 17th century and the poets of 18th & 19th century. He claimed the metaphysical poets or the poets of 17th century as ‘intellectual’ and the poet of later periods were ‘reflective’.

Intellectual poets: The intellectual poets were the metaphysical poets who had a sensuous apprehension of thought or a recreation of thought into feeling. They had a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience and they were fantastic, simple and artificial. Especially they were the metaphysical poets.

Reflective Poets: The reflective poets were the poets of later period means 18th and 19th centuries. They did not feel their thought immediately. The reflective poets maintained the dissociation of sensibility when the language became more refined but the feeling became more crude. The prominent reflective poets were Milton, Dryden, Collins, Grey, Tennyson, Browning and more.


Unification of Sensibility and Dissociation of Sensibility:

Unification of sensibility and dissociation of sensibility are the two significant term discussed in Eliot’s the Metaphysical Poets.

Unification of Sensibility: Definition:

It means the unity of thought and feeling. The metaphysical poets maintained it in their writings. The poets of 17th century hold a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience as well as they were simple and artificial. For example, the writings of Chapman and Donne.

Dissociation of sensibility: definition:

The dissociation of sensibility happened in the 18th century, a gap occurred in the flow of writing when the poets started to express the thoughts, feelings and emotions separately. It continued from Milton and Dryden to Tennyson and Browning. In this sorts of writing feelings or sensibility became cruder and language became more refined.


The metaphysical Poets and the Poets of Modern Age:

At the last part of his essay, Eliot asked the modern poets to follow the tradition of the metaphysical poets. The poets should not be interested in philosophy or any other subject. The modern   poets should be difficult. He advised the modern poets to be more comprehensive more indirect and more allusive and to be complex.


Written by: Saiful Munna, Honours in English, BD.

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** Read More *** Written by Shadid Ahmed **

First published as a review of a J.G Grierson’s paper, Eliot’s text proved more than to be a critical note on this subject. This document brought in interest from many peers of life and had rebirthed the revolution of metaphysical poetry in many significant ways. Grierson’s paper was right provoke the definition and style of the “metaphysical poets” as was agreed by Eliot himself but the phrase that he (Grierson) had argued about, was meant directly as an insult whereas Eliot tried to illustrate the accessibility of the senses and the required intellect to actually understand the seemingly difficult language of metaphysical poet.


Senses plays an important to the metaphysical poets. “The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together” - a popular remark about metaphysical poetry by Johnson completely misses the importance of such senses. Eliot provides ample examples from Donne’s poetry to demonstrate this point. 


“A bracelet of bright hair about the bone” - taken from Donne’s “The Relic” is indicative to the intellect and characteristic of a successful marriage between senses. The contrast between ‘bright hair’ and ‘bone’ multiplies the dramatic impact of such an affection that can only emerge from a pure, spiritual love. However, such use of diction is not unlike poets before this period. Shakespeare, Middleton, Webster and even Tourneur has plentiful sources and vitality in the texts that clearly resembles the characteristic of metaphysical poet. So calling them a school of their own is obviously a digression of the nature of literature. As literature evolves and diverts into many different pathways, they are surely destined to be a little from their predecessors but not even then, we can trace the convergence to their core which Grierson, clearly didn’t try to look upon. 


Eliot, breaks down the technical aspect of the diction of metaphysical poem with the phrases, ‘Dissociation of Sensibility’ and ‘Unification of Sensibility’. The idea behind them is that poets like Donne and Cowley could successfully voice their thoughts into their feelings. To achieve that, one had to be intellectually aware about their experiences and diction. Sudden contrasts like in the poem ‘The Relic’ by John Donne is an ideal example of unification of sensibility. It’s when the writer separate their thoughts and feelings in their poems, they create the dissociation of sensibility. To Eliot, the dissociation in poems started to take over in the late seventeenth century. Especially by John Dryden and John Milton. 


Eliot argues, metaphysical poem are intentionally written to be as difficult to understand as possible but not for the reasons Grierson or Johnson had discussed in their essays. They are modern poets in hindsight. Masters of their language. Philosophers of the soul. Full of conceits and diction that are complex and changes rapidly to adapt to the senses, thoughts and states of the mind of a true poet. 

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