The metaphysical poets were a loose group of British lyric poets of the 17th century, who shared an interest in metaphysical concerns and a common way of investigating them. The label “metaphysical” was given much later by Samuel Johnson in his Life of Cowley. These poets themselves did not form a school or start a movement; most of them did not even know or read each other. Their style was characterized by wit, subtle arguments, “metaphysical conceits”, and/or an unusual simile or metaphor such as in Andrew Marvell’s comparison of the soul with a drop of dew. Several metaphysical poets, especially John Donne, were influenced by Neo-Platonism. One of the primary Platonic concepts found in metaphysical poetry is the idea that the perfection of beauty in the beloved acted as a remembrance of perfect beauty in the eternal realm. In a famous definition Georg Lukács, the Hungarian Marxist critic, described the school’s common trait of “looking beyond the palpable” and “attempting to erase one’s own image from the mirror in front so that it should reflect the not-now and not-here” as foreshadowing existentialism. Though secular subjects drew them (in particular matter drawn from the new science, from the expanding geographical horizons of the period, and from dialectic) there was also a strong casuistic element to their work, defining their relationship with God.
For the GRE, the primary metaphysical poets you should know are: