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Metaphysical Conceit

  • Date Submitted: 09/20/2012 12:20 AM
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* The metaphysical conceit, associated with the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century, is a more intricate and intellectual device. It usually sets up an analogy between one entity’s spiritual qualities and an object in the physical world and sometimes controls the whole structure of the poem. For example, in the following stanzas from A Valediction: Forbidding...

A "conceit", in literature, fanciful or unusual image in which apparently dissimilar things are shown to have a relationship. The Elizabethan poets were fond of Petrarchian conceits, which were conventional comparisons, imitated from the love songs of Petrarch, in which the beloved was compared to a flower, a garden, or the like. The device was also used by the metaphysical poets metaphysical poets, name given to a group of English lyric poets of the 17th cent. The term was first used by Samuel Johnson (1744). The hallmark of their poetry is the metaphysical conceit (a figure of speech that employs unusual and paradoxical images). John Donne's comparison of two souls with two bullets in "The Dissolution." Samuel Johnson disapproved of such strained metaphors, declaring that in the conceit "the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together." Such modern poets as Emily Dickinson and T. S. Eliot have used conceits.

Metaphysical conceits often exploit verbal logic to the point of the grotesque and sometimes achieve such extravagant turns on meaning that they become absurd (e.g. Richard Crashaw's description of Mary Magdalene's eyes as "Two walking baths; two weeping motions,/Portable and compendious oceans").

These conceits work best when the reader is given a perception of a
real but previously unsuspected similarity that is enlightening; then
they may speak to our minds and emotions with force. Examples of
potential metaphysical conceits->love is like an oil change; love is
like a postage stamp; love is like a pair of compasses; the soul of a
sinner is like a damaged pot.

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