T.S Eliot’s Early Poetry and John Donne’s “Metaphysical” Poetics

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Liliana Gogichaishvili


The works of the “metaphysical” poet John Donne can be freely considered as one of the biggest influences of the twentieth century English poetry. It was because of the modernist writers that Donne came to be popular again in the modern world. Modernist poets saw their own ideas and aspirations in Donne’s raging, controversial, highly intellectual poetry, possibility of which they gained from the poetics of “metaphysical” verse itself.

In terms of “getting back” to the “metaphysics”, 20th century literature greatly owes to T.S Eliot. In his critical theories and poetic practice Eliot not only analyses Donne’s poetry, but he also regenerates “metaphysical” poetics in his own works. Thanks to T.S Eliot this knowledge was later shared with all Anglo-American modernist poetry.

One of the most important artistic techniques which is so characteristic of both Donne’s and Eliot’s poetics is” metaphysical” wit. It tends to create such a surprising effect, that is achieved by comparison and drawing of tottally different ideas and images together. In order to express wit "Metaphysicians" use conceit - a complex, widespread metaphor that can express both intellect and fantasy at the same time.

One of the most famous examples of a conceit in Donne’s poetry is found in his late poem called “Hymn to God, my God, in my Sickness”. Here the author identifies himself with a map, whereas he calls the doctors cosmographers. The same artistic effect is noticed in Eliot’s famous poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. In this poem the stillness of the evening is compared to a patient “etherized upon a table”. There are lots of such imitations of Donne’s poetry in Eliot’s works.

These very parallels of Donne’s and Eliot’s lyrics are discussed in my thesis, where I try to demonstrate how the influence of the 17th century poetry worked on Eliot’s early poems.

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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