Characteristics Of Metaphysical Poetry

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“Metaphysical Scientific Conceits: Recondite and/or Plausible?” (Oral presentation at the Faculty of Arts of Sousse / 2008) Economy of language, strength of style, concentration of meaning, and fondness for conceits are the basic distinguishing features of metaphysical poetry. Of these four properties, Helen Gardner reflects, it is the last that is “the most immediately striking” (19) and hence the most intriguing. A conceit, as defined in her book, the Metaphysical Poets, is “a comparison whose ingenuity is more striking than its justness” (19). The cleverly phrased witty expressions the metaphysicals use, she adds, make us “concede likeness while being strangely conscious of unlikeness” (19). Successfully used conceits may seem at first glance far-fetched, they may initially strike us as “bizarre, striking, extravagant, quaint or grotesque” (Mackenzie 12), but on reflection they prove to be appropriate and plausible. It is to an exploration of the appropriateness and functionality of metaphysical conceits that the present dissertation is devoted. It is, indeed, not safe to admit that conceits saw the light of day with the advent of the metaphysicals. Sixteenth-century poetry, for instance, is pregnant with some witty expressions. Sir Walter Raleigh, in one of his most memorable poems, strikes us with an intriguing image in which he equates man’s life to a play: What is our life? a play of passion, Our mirth the music of division, Our mother’s wombs the

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