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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive collection of the Metaphysical poets., 7 Mar 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Metaphysical Poets (Paperback)
This book gives you not only a comprehensive collection of the Metaphysical poets, but also helpful information on the poets and their poems. Although it is not a study guide, if you are interested and excited by these poems, this is an excellent book to work through. Also featuring some of the lesser known Metaphysicals, it contains all the most pervasive poets and poems also. I am currently using this book in conjunction with my English Literature A level, and have found it more than amply fits the course. An excellent anthology of these unusual and emotionally engaging poets.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars STRONG LINES, 14 July 2010
By 
B. G. Strand "strandbg" (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Metaphysical Poets (Paperback)
Helen Gardner's selection of two hundred and twenty poems ,from thirty-eight poets ably complements her learned description of this 'strong lines' poetic style,noted for its 'fondness for metaphor',brilliant memorable opening lines and the 'down to earth' reality of every day life of its subject matter.Her excellent informative introductory essay is worth the price of the book by itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction ..., 13 Mar 2012
By 
Doc Barbara "Barbara Daniels" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Metaphysical Poets (Paperback)
.. to some of the best poetry in English. There are well-chosen selections from the poets rather misleadingly known as "Metaphysicals" (Dr Johnson's term referring to their learning and exhibition of it) and some explanatory footnotes on, for example the Elixir Vitae - elixir of life. Having such a compilation of selections of many poets does place Donne, Marvell, Vaughan and Herbert in their context - and there is a good selection of all four - enabling the reader to compare and contrast with ease. It also gives a flavour of the verse of the age so that a particular poet's voice can be heard as original or otherwise. Helen Gardner was a scholar of this period and her choice is sound and authoritative - I would recommend this book to any poetry lover or student who wants an initial insight into the seventeenth century and who might then move on to the Complete Works of any poet included. I have reviewed Donne as a poet in my comments on The Complete Works.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The man who Took His Wife and Himself for a Pair of Compasses, 7 Feb 2014
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Metaphysical Poets (Paperback)
The “metaphysical poets” were in no way a self-proclaimed poetic school or movement. Nor were they all exact contemporaries of one another; the earliest poet represented in this anthology, Sir Walter Raleigh, was born around 1552 and the last survivor, Richard Leigh, was born in 1649, nearly a century after Raleigh, and died as late as 1728. None of them ever described themselves as “metaphysical poets”; that term was coined by Samuel Johnson in the late eighteenth century (in a biography of Abraham Cowley) to characterise a number of British lyric poets writing at the very end of the 16th century and throughout much of the 17th. Johnson’s opinion of those poets whom he so designated was not a very high one, but the term he coined has survived as the standard epithet to describe a number of the poets of this era. (T. S. Eliot, for example, wrote an essay entitled “The Metaphysical Poets”).

Not all British poetry written during this period, however, was “metaphysical”. Dryden, for example, is not represented here at all; although he was a contemporary of some of the later “metaphysicals”, his work looks forward more to the classically inspired “Augustan” poetry of the eighteenth century. Of the two “great names” of the era, Milton is represented only by some youthful efforts and Shakespeare by the very untypical “The Phoenix and the Turtle”. (As the editor Helen Gardner admits, there would be little reason to attribute it to him had it not been published under his name).

The term “metaphysical” does not in this context necessarily equate to “religious”, although it is true that man’s love of God was one of the two major concerns of the poets represented here, the other being man’s love of woman. (And in this book it is always that way round; although the anthology was edited by a woman no female poets are represented, although some, such as Anne Bradstreet or Katherine Philips, could conceivably have been). In her introduction Gardner identifies two characteristics as the hallmark of the metaphysical poets, concision and the use of conceits. Nearly all the poems printed here are relatively brief, and most of them use fairly simple verse forms, often with lines of varying length, contrasting with the stricter forms and rhyme-schemes favoured by many sixteenth century poets such as Wyatt and Sidney.

A “conceit” in this context means an extended or elaborate comparison or metaphor. I remember being taught at school that the classical example of a conceit was John Donne’s famous comparison (in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”) of his wife and himself to a pair of compasses, joined together by mutual love even when physically separated. There are, however, some other striking examples here, such as Andrew Marvell’s vision of the human soul as a drop of dew, George Herbert’s comparison of human life to the growth of a flower, Thomas Traherne’s “Shadows in the Water” in which reflections in a stream are seen as Neo-Platonic emblems of perfection and as a foretaste of the joys of Heaven, and Henry Vaughan’s vision of eternity as a ring of light. (“I saw Eternity the other night”).

As I said, love of God was one of the major themes of metaphysical poetry, and some of the poets represented, notably Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Vaughan and Traherne, wrote exclusively or predominantly on religious topics. Others, such as Donne and Marvell, were equally at home penning religious or secular poetry. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the time of some of the most intense religious conflicts in our history, yet little of this appears in the poems represented here. There is little difference between the religious verse of Catholic writers such as Crashaw and Robert Southwell (who suffered martyrdom for his faith) and Protestants such as Donne, Herbert, Traherne and Vaughan; whichever side of the sectarian divide they fell on, theirs was a religion which emphasised love of God, not hatred of one’s theological opponents. (This was, unfortunately, far from always being the case during this period).

Although this was also a period of fierce political strife, few expressly political poems are included- the main exception being Marvell’s famous “Horatian Ode on Cromwell’s Return from Ireland”- even though many of the poets were actively involved in the Civil War. Rather strangely, most of these (William Cartwright, John Cleveland, Sidney Godolphin, Richard Lovelace and others) were firmly on the Royalist side; Milton is almost alone in being a consistently committed Parliamentarian. Even Marvell, although he later became a great admirer of Cromwell, took no active part in the Civil War, spending the years in question abroad.

The anthology covers both major and minor poets and generally speaking, Gardner works on the principle that the higher a writer’s reputation in the modern literary canon, the more poems of his will be printed here. (The main exceptions are Shakespeare and Milton as referred to above, and Ben Jonson, better known as a dramatist than as a lyric poet). Thus Donne has the greatest number of poems, Herbert the second- greatest and Marvell, Crashaw and Vaughan are also well represented. Inevitably I found myself wanting to learn more about some of those included who were hitherto unfamiliar to me, notably Traherne but also figures such as Southwell, Fulke Greville, George Herbert’s brother Edward, William Davenant and Lovelace. Equally inevitably, perhaps, I also found that there were some whose reputation as minor poets, with the stress on the adjective, and the obscurity into which they have sunk since their lifetimes, seemed well-deserved. On the whole, however, this is a collection which should please anyone with an interest in the literature of this period.
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The Metaphysical Poets by Helen Gardner (Paperback - 28 Jun 1973)
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