English 100

Junior Seminar: The Metaphysicals

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2006 Picciotto, Joanna M
Picciotto, Joanna
MW 4-5:30 109 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Helen Gardner, ed.: The Metaphysical Poets; a course reader of critical selections


The term �the metaphysicals� originated in an insult: John Dryden faulted John Donne and the poets who fell under his influence for �affecting the metaphysics�; intent on perplexing their readers with �nice philosophical speculations,� they failed to �engage their hearts.� Samuel Johnson went further, asserting that the metaphysicals forfeited �their right to the name of poets, for they cannot be said to have imitated anything�; free of mimetic ambition, �their wish was only to say what they hoped had never been said before.� We�ll consider what stylistic features (and critical assumptions) provoked these initial responses and the epithet �metaphysical� and what, if anything, the poets it names�John Donne, George Herbert, Abraham Cowley, and Andrew Marvell, among others�have to do with each other. We�ll also consider the basis of their changed critical fortunes in the twentieth century. Students will produce a short paper analyzing a single poem, an evaluation of a critic�s treatment of one of the poets, and a longer final paper.

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