The Metaphysical Poets

What is a metaphysical poem?

The term “metaphysical” when applied to poetry has a long and interesting history. You should know this, but the information in Helen Gardner’s Introduction to The Metaphysical Poets (Penguin)is more than adequate. Luckily, you have no time in an exam for a lengthy discussion. The examiner wants to see you discuss the text.

Metaphysical poetry is concerned with the whole experience of man, but the intelligence, learning and seriousness of the poets means that the poetry is about the profound areas of experience especially – about love, romantic and sensual; about man’s relationship with God – the eternal perspective, and, to a less extent, about pleasure, learning and art.

Key Examples:

John Donne, The Good-Morrow, The Sunne Rising, The Anniversarie, The Canonization, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning and A Nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day

George Herbert, Jordan (I), The Pearl, The Collar, Discipline and Love (III)

Andrew Marvell, The Coronet, Bermudas, To His Coy Mistress, The Definition of Love and The Garden

Henry Vaughan, The Retreate, The World, Man and “They Are All Gone into the World of Light”

Metaphysical poems are lyric poems. They are brief but intense meditations, characterized by striking use of wit, irony and wordplay. Beneath the formal structure (of rhyme, metre and stanza) is the underlying (and often hardly less formal) structure of the poem’s argument. Note that there may be two (or more) kinds of argument in a poem. In To His Coy Mistress the explicit argument (Marvell’s request that the coy lady yield to his passion) is a stalking horse for the more serious argument about the transitoriness of pleasure. The outward levity conceals (barely) a deep seriousness of intent. You would be able to show how this theme of carpe diem (“seize the day”) is made clear in the third section of the poem.

Reflections on love or God should not be too hard for you. Writing about a poet’s technique is more challenging but will please any examiner. Giving some time to each (where the task invites this), while ending on technique would be ideal.

Here are some suggestions as to how to look at the detail of individual poems under a very broad heading.

Love in the poems

In Marvell we find the pretence of passion (in To His Coy Mistress) used as a peg on which to hang serious reflections on the brevity of happiness. The Definition of Love is an ironic game – more a love of definition let loose; the poem is cool, lucid and dispassionate, if gently self-mocking. So you can move on to Donne, in whom passionate sexual love is examined with vigour and intensity. There are far too many suitable poems to consider all in detail, but The Good-Morrow, The Sunne Rising and The Anniversarie belong together, while A Nocturnall, upon S. Lucie’s Day gives the other side of the coin. There is positive celebration of life in The Good Morrow and the others, while in the Nocturnall we have the examination of complex negativity.

In A Valediction, Forbidding Mourning the argument is not logically persuasive, but the cleverness and subtlety of Donne’s method are diverting – an intelligent woman might be comforted. She cannot change the fact of the lover’s going, but the poem is evidence of the integrity of the love he has professed hitherto.

Both Herbert and Vaughan address man’s love of God, while Herbert, and Marvell (Bermudas), consider God’s love of man. Herbert considers man’s duty to God in The Collar and The Pearl as does Marvell in The Coronet.

Eternity and man’s life in the context of this, is the explicit subject of all of Vaughan’s poems in the selection, but is considered by Herbert in The Flower and, in a wholly secular manner, by Marvell in To His Coy Mistress.

In terms of the whole poetry of these four, this small selection accurately reflects the arguably narrow preoccupation of Herbert and Vaughan with religious questions, and the great variety of Marvell.

The selection only of love poems is partly misleading in Donne’s case. He wrote a great deal of devotional verse, much of it very good, but his most striking achievements are in the Songs and Sonets. Herbert, of course, is not narrow – he is concerned with man’s whole life in relation to God. Vaughan is more problematic – his preoccupation with his own salvation and his conviction that most of mankind is damned are less attractive qualities. He is fanatical where Herbert is tolerant.

The poems’ arguments

Looking at the poets’ technique should, perhaps, begin with a consideration of argument. In a way all of the poems have an argument, but it is interesting or striking in some more than others.

To His Coy Mistress – the light and the serious arguments in one; the structure “Had we …” “But …” “Now therefore …”;

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning – the structure “As … so” “But … But” “Therefore” “Such wilt thou be to me …” and the similarity to this of The Definition of Love (but there are big differences, too);

The World – various follies depicted, with the solution to the supposed puzzle in the final stanza;

Bermudas and The Collar – both use a dramatic form: the puritan sailors’ song or the outburst of the rebellious Christian;

The Flower is dramatic, too, but embodies a kind of parable: Herbert sustains both the metaphor and the idea of the speaker as the Christian “Everyman”, examining his relationship with God;

Discipline – the severity of God’s wrath is mirrored in the taut, cramped lines – compare this with the “disordered” lines of The Collar.


You can also consider the imagery used by the poets. Do NOT become bogged down in discussion of single images, such as the notorious “twin compasses” in A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.

Consider, rather, the whole range of sources of imagery each uses. Broadly speaking, Donne is eclectic (wide-ranging) and apparently obscure. He did not write for publication, but showed poems to friends whom he supposed to be well-read enough to understand these references. Donne’s imagery draws on the new (in the late 16th century) learning of the English renaissance and on topical discoveries and exploration. We find references to alchemy, sea-voyages, mythology and religion (among many other things). Certain images or ideas recur so often as to seem typical: kingship and rule; subjectivism (“one little room an everywhere” “nothing else is”); alchemy – especially the mystical beliefs associated with elixir and quintessence – and cosmology, both ancient and modern (references both to spheres and to the world of “sea-discoverers”).

Herbert’s imagery, by way of contrast, draws on the everyday and familiar; reason is like “a good huswife”, spirit is measured in “drammes” and God’s grace is a “silk twist”, suffering is a harvest of thorns or blood-letting, Paradise is a garden where winter never comes, severity is a rod and love is God’s bow or the host at a banquet. It will be seen, however, that many of these images are found in Christ’s teaching, while others (or the same ones) may have acquired religious connotations. The reference to “thorn” and “bloud” in The Collar ironically seem to ignore the conventional religious symbolism of these terms.

Vaughan uses imagery almost exclusively from the natural world which is apprehended with a delight notably absent from his perception of most other people. The clue to this lies in The Retreate where Vaughan notes that “shadows of eternity” were seen by him in natural phenomena such as clouds or flowers. These images are readily understood and beautiful as with the flown bird and the star liberated from the Tomb. With Marvell, imagery is more problematic. Unlike Donne who scatters metaphors freely, Marvell is more selective and sparing. Very often the image is more memorable and striking than the idea it expresses, as with the “deserts of vast eternity”, while frequently one finds an idea which cannot be understood except as the image in which Marvell expresses it, as with the “green thought in a green shade”. In any case, with all of these poets, the use of metaphor serves, and is subordinate to, the total argument.

You should not leave the subject of technique without considering two poems (Jordan I and The Coronet) in which poetry is itself discussed. Herbert argues for plain-speaking, truth (man’s real relationship with God, not a pastoral fiction) and simplicity in a poem in which only the final two lines are simple. Herbert cannot help the cleverness of his verse but time and again concludes poems with praise of simplicity and deprecation of the wit he has just displayed. In The Coronet, Marvell considers whether the poetic skill which has formerly (and culpably) served to praise his “shepherdess” can “redress that Wrong”, by weaving a “Chaplet” for Christ.

But, the poet concludes, this is self-deception and vanity, and he ends with a prayer that God will act to remove the “Serpent” (the pursuit, in writing, of the poet’s own “Fame” or (self) “Interest” – even if this requires the destruction of Marvell’s own ingenious verse – “my curious frame”). In the skilful development of the central metaphor of the garland or “coronet” (appropriate both to the pastoral context and with biblical connotations, especially in associating the temptation to evil with the Serpent lurking in the greenery, Marvell exhibits the complexity, the riddling quality which this poem calls into question, perhaps best shown in the tortuous syntax of the first sentence with its succession of subordinate clauses separating the introductory “When” from the subject and main verb “I seek”.

Comparing the poets


All the poets, though they occasionally display erudition (learning) write with fairly colloquial voices. The best-known (and, so, frequently-quoted) examples are Donne’s pretended outbursts: “I wonder by my troth …”; “Busy old foole” and “For God’s sake hold your tongue …” However the simple intimate address to the reader – “’Tis the year’s midnight” is no less characteristic of speech.

In Herbert we find equally pregnant openings. There are simple introductory statements which turn out not to be so simple: “Love bade me welcome ”(but what is this love, or who?), “I know the wayes of learning …”; there are questions: “Who sayes that fictions onely … become a verse?” and tranquil recollections of far from tranquil outbursts: “I struck the board, and cry’d, No more”. And, finally, as Donne addresses his mistress directly, so Herbert speaks, in the second person, to God: “Throw away thy rod” and “How fresh, O Lord … Are thy returns … These are thy wonders, Lord of love”.

As in other respects, Marvell exhibits more variety here. We find the second person in To His Coy Mistress. When Donne does this, we can believe, even though his own thoughts are what we learn, that an intimate address to a real woman is intended (in, say, The Good-Morrow, The Anniversarie and, even, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning). But the “Coy Mistress” is conspicuously absent – a mere pretext for Marvell to examine his real subjects – time and the brevity of human happiness.

Themes and subjects

As Donne and Herbert do, Marvell writes much about his own ideas, but with less consistency. There is variety and superficial contradiction in the Songs and Sonets but Donne’s preoccupation with love is not in doubt. Herbert’s devout manner appears consistently in the poems in The Temple, but To His Coy Mistress is not easily reconciled with Bermudas or The Coronet. Marvell in all of these poems writes with lucidity and wit yet there is often an element of detachment – perhaps best shown in the dispassionate clarity and wordplay of The Definition of Love. It is interesting to note that the simplicity of much of Bermudas (essentially a list of God’s gifts to the settlers of the islands, though individual lines contain the usual wit – as in the description of the [pine]apples) is explained by the device of making most of the poem a hymn of gratitude, sung by the English sailors.

Though Vaughan’s exclusive religious views may repel us, we cannot ignore the clarity and directness of his style. The syntax is easy to the modern ear and unusual vocabulary is rare. He may open with an exclamation: “Happy those early dayes!” or “They are all gone into the world of light!” The simple understatement employed by Herbert is more than matched in The World which has one of the most striking openings of any English poem:

I saw Eternity the other night.

It could be fairly argued that the poem does not wholly succeed in the account, in detail (no poem could!) of the vision of Eternity which follows, but we can see how Vaughan works in the tradition established for poetry by Donne and for devotional verse by Herbert.

Stanzas and poetic form

Donne also establishes a pattern which the others emulate in his use of the stanza. He appears to love variety as a natural embellishment and (to borrow Milton’s phrase)“true ornament of verse”. We can see this by comparing poems. The three stanza structure which carries the argument in The Good Morrow is used again in other poems. But the fluency of the stanza in The Good-Morrow leading to the brief penultimate line and final Alexandrine with its stately, measured quality, gives way in The Sunne Rising to a far more lively and varied stanza. The almost breathless colloquial lines are, however, qualified in each stanza by a wholly regular and fluent rhyming couplet which enables Donne to conclude with a rhetorical flourish (note, however, that the final pentameter line is divided – rather on the model of the Alexandrine – after the second iambic foot). In The Anniversarie the whole stanza is more measured and stately and the Alexandrine is restored as the final line. In A Nocturnall Upon S.Lucies Day Donne uses, again, predominantly the pentameter line, yet the whole effect is more laboured than the fluent Good-Morrow. This is achieved by repeated interruptions marked by the punctuation.

Herbert matches Donne for variety in the stanza, but is more aware of the appearance of the poem on the page, as well as the effect on the ear. Poems such as The Altar and Easter Wings are written almost wholly for the sake of appearance. In this selection we should note, especially, The Collar and Discipline. In Discipline the cramped, lean lines reflect the severity which the poet begs God to refrain from using. In The Collar, there is an apparent randomness, a lack of order on the page, which mirrors the disordered outburst the poet here records. the jerky quality which derives from rhetorical questions – frequent use of full-stop, colon and question-mark even in mid-line – gives way only in the final four lines to a fluent conclusion which comes with the poet’s account of his submission to the divine pull on the collar.

In many of Marvell’s poems we find the same eight-syllable iambic line, yet its effect can vary remarkably. In To His Coy Mistress the vigorousness of the argument appears in the breathless lines – few are end-stopped, and the lines have the rough power of speech.

In The Definition of Love the same line is used, but arranged in four line stanzas. These carry the argument in the same way in which Donne uses this stanza in A Valediction Forbidding Mourning. Unlike Donne, who is prepared to allow some use of enjambement (between first and second stanzas and frequently within all the stanzas) Marvell’s stanza here has a near metronomic quality – a punctuation mark at the end of the second line exaggerates the rhyming syllable, which is emphatically matched at the end of the stanza. There is a similar regularity in Bermudas but here, by arranging the lines as rhyming pairs, Marvell conveys something of the sense of the motion of the English boat through the water (as the poem’s last line makes clear). This same line is used again, but arranged into eight line stanzas to develop the argument in The Garden, which is less slick but more profound and thoughtful than that in The Definition of Love.

Vaughan feels free to use variety in his stanza. Less spectacularly, perhaps, than Donne, he nonetheless suits form to content. So The Retreate is a fast-moving sustained meditation not divided into stanzas. The more contrived and ordered argument of The World or Man require much longer stanzas, but regular in form, while “They Are All Gone into the World of Light”, with its shorter stanza, becomes, in effect, a long series of distinct observations on the poem’s single subject.

Most of these comments are very general. Connections have been made which you should now exploit in relation to particular poems. Memorizing the text is not required but you must know your way around the poems. Trying, for the first time, to understand them in an exam is not wise.

It is therefore worth taking a poem, and deciding what you can usefully write about it, in terms of content, technique and points of reference to other poems.


by John Donne

I WONDER by my troth, what thou and I

Did, till we loved ? were we not wean’d till then ?

But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly ?

Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den ?

‘Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be ;

If ever any beauty I did see,

Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,

Which watch not one another out of fear ;

For love all love of other sights controls,

And makes one little room an everywhere.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone ;

Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown ;

Let us possess one world ; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest ;

Where can we find two better hemispheres

Without sharp north, without declining west ?

Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally ;

If our two loves be one, or thou and I

Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.


by John Donne

BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,

Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?

Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?

Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide

Late school-boys and sour prentices,

Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,

Call country ants to harvest offices ;

Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,

Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong

Why shouldst thou think ?

I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,

But that I would not lose her sight so long.

If her eyes have not blinded thine,

Look, and to-morrow late tell me,

Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine

Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.

Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,

And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I ;

Nothing else is ;

Princes do but play us ; compared to this,

All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.

Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,

In that the world’s contracted thus ;

Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be

To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.

Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;

This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.


by John Donne

ALL kings, and all their favourites,

All glory of honours, beauties, wits,

The sun it self, which makes time, as they pass,

Is elder by a year now than it was

When thou and I first one another saw.

All other things to their destruction draw,

Only our love hath no decay ;

This no to-morrow hath, nor yesterday ;

Running it never runs from us away,

But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

Two graves must hide thine and my corse ;

If one might, death were no divorce.

Alas ! as well as other princes, we

—Who prince enough in one another be—

Must leave at last in death these eyes and ears,

Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet salt tears ;

But souls where nothing dwells but love

—All other thoughts being inmates—then shall prove

This or a love increasèd there above,

When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.

And then we shall be throughly blest ;

But now no more than all the rest.

Here upon earth we’re kings, and none but we

Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be.

Who is so safe as we? where none can do

Treason to us, except one of us two.

True and false fears let us refrain,

Let us love nobly, and live, and add again

Years and years unto years, till we attain

To write threescore ; this is the second of our reign.


by John Donne

FOR God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love ;

Or chide my palsy, or my gout ;

My five gray hairs, or ruin’d fortune flout ;

With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve ;

Take you a course, get you a place,

Observe his Honour, or his Grace ;

Or the king’s real, or his stamp’d face

Contemplate ; what you will, approve,

So you will let me love.

Alas ! alas ! who’s injured by my love?

What merchant’s ships have my sighs drown’d?

Who says my tears have overflow’d his ground?

When did my colds a forward spring remove?

When did the heats which my veins fill

Add one more to the plaguy bill?

Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still

Litigious men, which quarrels move,

Though she and I do love.

Call’s what you will, we are made such by love ;

Call her one, me another fly,

We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die,

And we in us find th’ eagle and the dove.

The phoenix riddle hath more wit

By us ; we two being one, are it ;

So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.

We die and rise the same, and prove

Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,

And if unfit for tomb or hearse

Our legend be, it will be fit for verse ;

And if no piece of chronicle we prove,

We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms ;

As well a well-wrought urn becomes

The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,

And by these hymns, all shall approve

Us canonized for love ;

And thus invoke us, “You, whom reverend love

Made one another’s hermitage ;

You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage ;

Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove

Into the glasses of your eyes ;

So made such mirrors, and such spies,

That they did all to you epitomize—

Countries, towns, courts beg from above

A pattern of your love.”

A Valediction* Forbidding Mourning (1611)

As virtuous men pass mildly’ away,

And whisper to their souls to go,

Whilst some of their sad friends do say

The breath goes now, and some say, no;

5     So let us melt, and make no noise,

No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,

‘Twere profanation of our joys

To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’earth brings harms and fears,

10          Men reckon what it did and meant;

But trepidation of the spheres,

Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love

(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit

15     Absence, because it doth remove

Those things which elemented it.

But we by’a love so much refined

That our selves know not what it is,

Inter-assuréd of the mind,

20          Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,

Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to airy thinness beat.

25     If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two;

Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show

To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the center sit,

30          Yet when the other far doth roam,

It leans and hearkens after it,

And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must

Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;

35     Thy firmness makes my circle just,

And makes me end where I begun.



by John Donne

‘TIS the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,

Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;

The sun is spent, and now his flasks

Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;

The world’s whole sap is sunk ;

The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,

Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,

Dead and interr’d ; yet all these seem to laugh,

Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be

At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;

For I am every dead thing,

In whom Love wrought new alchemy.

For his art did express

A quintessence even from nothingness,

From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;

He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot

Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,

Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;

I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave

Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood

Have we two wept, and so

Drown’d the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,

To be two chaoses, when we did show

Care to aught else ; and often absences

Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—

Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;

Were I a man, that I were one

I needs must know ; I should prefer,

If I were any beast,

Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,

And love ; all, all some properties invest.

If I an ordinary nothing were,

As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.

You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun

At this time to the Goat is run

To fetch new lust, and give it you,

Enjoy your summer all,

Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.

Let me prepare towards her, and let me call

This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this

Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

JORDAN. (I) – George Herbert

WHO sayes that fictions onely and false hair

Become a verse ?  Is there in truth no beautie ?

Is all good structure in a winding stair ?

May no lines passe, except they do their dutie

Not to a true, but painted chair ?

Is it not verse, except enchanted groves

And sudden arbours shadow course-spunne lines ?

Must purling streams refresh a lovers loves ?

Must all be vail’d, while he that reades, divines,

Catching the sense at two removes ?

Shepherds are honest people ; let them sing :

Riddle who list, for me, and pull for Prime :

I envie no mans nightingale or spring ;

Nor let them punish me with losse of ryme,

Who plainly say, My God, My King.


When first my lines of heav’nly joyes made mention,

Such was their lustre, they did so excell,

That I sought out quaint words, and trim invention ;

My thoughts began to burnish, sprout, and swell,

Curling with metaphors a plain intention,

Decking the sense, as if it were to sell.

Thousands of notions in my brain did runne,

Off’ring their service, if I were not sped :

I often blotted what I had begunne ;

This was not quick enough, and that was dead.

Nothing could seem too rich to clothe the sunne,

Much lesse those joyes which trample on his head.

As flames do work and winde, when they ascend,

So did I weave my self into the sense.

But while I bustled, I might heare a friend

Whisper, How wide is all this long pretence !

There is in love a sweetnesse readie penn’d :

Copie out only that, and save expense.

THE PEARL.         – George Herbert

Matt. XIII.

I KNOW the wayes of learning ; both the head

And pipes that feed the presse, and make it runne ;

What reason hath from nature borrowed,

Or of itself, like a good huswife, spunne

In laws and policie ; what the starres conspire,

What willing nature speaks, what forc’d by fire ;

Both th’ old discoveries, and the new-found seas,

The stock and surplus, cause and historie :

All these stand open, or I have the keyes :

Yet I love thee.

I know the wayes of honour, what maintains

The quick returns of courtesie and wit :

In vies of favours whether partie gains,

When glorie swells the heart, and moldeth it

To all expressions both of hand and eye,

Which on the world a true love-knot may tie,

And bear the bundle, wheresoe’er it goes :

How many drammes of spirit there must be

To sell my life unto my friends or foes :

Yet I love thee.

I know the wayes of pleasure, the sweet strains,

The lullings and the relishes of it ;

The propositions of hot bloud and brains ;

What mirth and musick mean ; what love and wit

Have done these twentie hundred yeares, and more :

I know the projects of unbridled store :

My stuffe is flesh, not brasse; my senses live,

And grumble oft, that they have more in me

Then he that curbs them, being but one to five :

Yet I love thee.

I know all these, and have them in my hand :

Therefore not sealed, but with open eyes

I flie to thee, and fully understand

Both the main sale, and the commodities ;

And at what rate and price I have thy love ;

With all the circumstances that may move :

Yet through these labyrinths, not my groveling wit,

But thy silk twist let down from heav’n to me,

Did both conduct and teach me, how by it

To climbe to thee.

THE COLLAR.   – George Herbert

I STRUCK the board, and cry’d, No more ;

I will abroad.

What ?  shall I ever sigh and pine ?

My lines and life are free ; free as the rode,

Loose as the winde, as large as store.

Shall I be still in suit ?

Have I no harvest but a thorn

To let me bloud, and not restore

What I have lost with cordiall fruit ?

Sure there was wine,

Before my sighs did drie it : there was corn

Before my tears did drown it.

Is the yeare onely lost to me ?

Have I no bayes to crown it ?

No flowers, no garlands gay ?  all blasted ?

All wasted ?

Not so, my heart : but there is fruit,

And thou hast hands.

Recover all thy sigh-blown age

On double pleasures : leave thy cold dispute

Of what is fit, and not forsake thy cage,

Thy rope of sands,

Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee

Good cable, to enforce and draw,

And be thy law,

While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.

Away ; take heed :

I will abroad.

Call in thy deaths head there : tie up thy fears.

He that forbears

To suit and serve his need,

Deserves his load.

But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde,

At every word,

Methought I heard one calling, Childe :

And I reply’d, My Lord.


THROW away thy rod,

Throw away thy wrath :

O my God,

Take the gentle path.

For my hearts desire

Unto thine is bent :

I aspire

To a full consent.

Nor a word or look

I affect to own,

But by book,

And thy book alone.

Though I fail, I weep :

Though I halt in pace,

Yet I creep

To the throne of grace.

Then let wrath remove ;

Love will do the deed :

For with love

Stonie hearts will bleed.

Love is swift of foot ;

Love’s a man of warre,

And can shoot,

And can hit from farre.

Who can scape his bow ?

That which wrought on thee,

Brought thee low,

Needs must work on me.

Throw away thy rod ;

Though man frailties hath,

Thou art God :

Throw away thy wrath.

Love (I)

IMMORTALL LOVE, authour of this great frame,

Sprung from that beautie which can never fade ;

How hath man parcel’d out thy glorious name,

And thrown it on that dust which thou hast made,

While mortall love doth all the title gain !

Which siding with invention, they together

Bear all the sway, possessing heart and brain,

(Thy workmanship) and give thee share in neither.

Wit fancies beautie, beautie raiseth wit :

The world is theirs ; they two play out the game,

Thou standing by : and though thy glorious name

Wrought our deliverance from th’ infernall pit,

Who sings thy praise ?  onely a skarf or glove

Doth warm our hands, and make them write of love.


IMMORTALL Heat, O let thy greater flame

Attract the lesser to it : let those fires

Which shall consume the world, first make it tame,

And kindle in our hearts such true desires,

As may consume our lusts, and make thee way.

Then shall our hearts pant thee ; then shall our brain

All her invention on thine Altar lay,

And there in hymnes send back thy fire again :

Our eies shall see thee, which before saw dust ;

Dust blown by wit, till that they both were blinde :

Thou shalt recover all thy goods in kinde,

Who wert disseized by usurping lust :

All knees shall bow to thee ; all wits shall rise,

And praise him who did make and mend our eies.


by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.


by Andrew Marvell

WHEN for the thorns with which I long, too long,

With many a piercing wound,

My Saviour’s head have crowned,

I seek with garlands to redress that wrong,—

Through every garden, every mead,

I gather flowers (my fruits are only flowers),

Dismantling all the fragrant towers

That once adorned my shepherdess’s head :

And now, when I have summed up all my store,

Thinking (so I my self deceive)

So rich a chaplet thence to weave

As never yet the King of Glory wore,

Alas ! I find the Serpent old,

That, twining in his speckled breast,

About the flowers disguised, does fold

With wreaths of fame and interest.

Ah, foolish man, that wouldst debase with them,

And mortal glory, Heaven’s diadem !

But thou who only couldst the Serpent tame,

Either his slippery knots at once untie,

And disentangle all his winding snare,

Or shatter too with him my curious frame,

And let these wither—so that he may die—

Though set with skill, and chosen out with care ;

That they, while thou on both their spoils dost tread,

May crown Thy feet, that could not crown Thy head.


WHERE the remote Bermudas ride,

In the ocean’s bosom unespied,

From a small boat, that rowed along,

The listening winds received this song :

“What should we do but sing His praise

That led us through the watery maze,

Unto an isle so long unknown,

And yet far kinder than our own ?

Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks,

That lift the deep upon their backs ;                    10

He lands us on a grassy stage,

Safe from the storms, and prelate’s rage.

He gave us this eternal spring,

Which here enamels every thing,

And sends the fowls to us in care,

On daily visits through the air ;

He hangs in shades the orange bright,

Like golden lamps in a green night,

And does in the pomegranates close

Jewels more rich than Ormus shows ;                 20

He makes the figs our mouths to meet,

And throws the melons at our feet ;

But apples plants of such a price,

No tree could ever bear them twice ;

With cedars chosen by His hand,

From Lebanon, He stores the land,

And makes the hollow seas, that roar,

Proclaim the ambergris on shore ;

He cast (of which we rather boast)

The Gospel’s pearl upon our coast,                    30

And in these rocks for us did frame

A temple where to sound His name.

Oh !  let our voice His praise exalt,

Till it arrive at Heaven’s vault,

Which, thence (perhaps) rebounding, may

Echo beyond the Mexique Bay.”

Thus sung they, in the English boat,

An holy and a cheerful note ;

And all the way, to guide their chime,

With falling oars they kept the time.                    40

To his Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day;

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side

Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the Flood;

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow.

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For, lady, you deserve this state,

Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found,

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long preserv’d virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust.

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may;

And now, like am’rous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour,

Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.

Let us roll all our strength, and all

Our sweetness, up into one ball;

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Thorough the iron gates of life.

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.



MY Love is of a birth as rare

As ’tis, for object, strange and high ;

It was begotten by Despair,

Upon Impossibility.


Magnanimous Despair alone

Could show me so divine a thing,

Where feeble hope could ne’er have flown,

But vainly flapped its tinsel wing.


And yet I quickly might arrive

Where my extended soul is fixed ;

But Fate does iron wedges drive,

And always crowds itself betwixt.


For Fate with jealous eye does see

Two perfect loves, nor lets them close ;

Their union would her ruin be,

And her tyrannic power depose.


And therefore her decrees of steel

Us as the distant poles have placed,

(Though Love’s whole world on us doth wheel),

Not by themselves to be embraced,


Unless the giddy heaven fall,

And earth some new convulsion tear.

And, us to join, the world should all

Be cramp’d into a planisphere.


As lines, so love’s oblique, may well

Themselves in every angle greet :

But ours, so truly parallel,

Though infinite, can never meet.


Therefore the love which us doth bind,

But Fate so enviously debars,

Is the conjunction of the mind,

And opposition of the stars.

The Garden

How vainly men themselves amaze

To win the palm, the oak, or bays ;

And their uncessant labors see

Crowned from some single herb or tree,

Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade

Does prudently their toils upbraid ;

While all the flowers and trees do close

To weave the garlands of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,

And Innocence, thy sister dear!

Mistaken long, I sought you then

In busy companies of men :

Your sacred plants, if here below,

Only among the plants will grow ;

Society is all but rude,

To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen

So amorous as this lovely green ;

Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,

Cut in these trees their mistress’ name.

Little, alas, they know or heed,

How far these beauties hers exceed!

Fair trees! wheresoe’er your barks I wound

No name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our passion’s heat,

Love hither makes his best retreat :

The gods who mortal beauty chase,

Still in a tree did end their race.

Apollo hunted Daphne so,

Only that she might laurel grow,

And Pan did after Syrinx speed,

Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

What wondrous life is this I lead!

Ripe apples drop about my head ;

The luscious clusters of the vine

Upon my mouth do crush their wine ;

The nectarine and curious peach

Into my hands themselves do reach ;

Stumbling on melons as I pass,

Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,

Withdraws into its happiness :

The mind, that ocean where each kind

Does straight its own resemblance find ;

Yet it creates, transcending these,

Far other worlds, and other seas ;

Annihilating all that’s made

To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,

Or at some fruit-tree’s mossy root,

Casting the body’s vest aside,

My soul into the boughs does glide :

There like a bird it sits and sings,

Then whets and combs its silver wings ;

And, till prepared for longer flight,

Waves in its plumes the various light.

Such was that happy garden-state,

While man there walked without a mate :

After a place so pure and sweet,

What other help could yet be meet!

But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share

To wander solitary there :

Two paradises ’twere in one

To live in Paradise alone.

How well the skillful gard’ner drew

Of flowers and herbs this dial new ;

Where from above the milder sun

Does through a fragrant zodiac run ;

And, as it works, th’ industrious bee

Computes its time as well as we.

How could such sweet and wholesome hours

Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!


by Henry Vaughan

HAPPY those early days, when I

Shin’d in my angel-infancy !

Before I understood this place

Appointed for my second race,

Or taught my soul to fancy ought

But a white, celestial thought ;

When yet I had not walk’d above

A mile or two from my first love,

And looking back—at that short space—

Could see a glimpse of His bright face ;

When on some gilded cloud, or flow’r,

My gazing soul would dwell an hour,

And in those weaker glories spy

Some shadows of eternity ;

Before I taught my tongue to wound

My conscience with a sinful sound,

Or had the black art to dispense

A sev’ral sin to ev’ry sense,

But felt through all this fleshly dress

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

O how I long to travel back,

And tread again that ancient track !

That I might once more reach that plain,

Where first I left my glorious train ;

From whence th’ enlighten’d spirit sees

That shady City of palm-trees.

But ah !  my soul with too much stay

Is drunk, and staggers in the way !

Some men a forward motion love,

But I by backward steps would move ;

And when this dust falls to the urn,

In that state I came, return.


by Henry Vaughan

I SAW Eternity the other night,

Like a great ring of pure and endless light,

All calm, as it was bright ;

And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years

Driv’n by the spheres                                    5

Like a vast shadow mov’d ; in which the world

And all her train were hurl’d.

The doting lover in his quaintest strain

Did there complain ;

Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,                         10

Wit’s sour delights ;

With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,

Yet his dear treasure,

All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour

Upon a flow’r.                                             15


The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,

Like a thick midnight-fog, mov’d there so slow,

He did nor stay, nor go ;

Condemning thoughts—like sad eclipses—scowl

Upon his soul,                                                  20

And clouds of crying witnesses without

Pursued him with one shout.

Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found,

Work’d under ground,

Where he did clutch his prey ; but one did see                     25

That policy :

Churches and altars fed him ; perjuries

Were gnats and flies ;

It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he

Drank them as free.                                    30


The fearful miser on a heap of rust

Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust

His own hands with the dust,

Yet would not place one piece above, but lives

In fear of thieves.                                        30

Thousands there were as frantic as himself,

And hugg’d each one his pelf ;*

The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense,

And scorn’d pretence ;

While others, slipp’d into a wide excess                               35

Said little less ;

The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,

Who think them brave ;

And poor, despisèd Truth sate counting by

Their victory.                                              40


Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,

And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring ;

But most would use no wing.

O fools—said I—thus to prefer dark night

Before true light !                                        45

To live in grots and caves, and hate the day

Because it shows the way ;

The way, which from this dead and dark abode

Leads up to God ;

A way where you might tread the sun, and be                     50

More bright than he !

But as I did their madness so discuss,

One whisper’d thus,

“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,

But for His bride.”                                      55

JOHN, CAP. 2. VER. 16, 17.

All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the

lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the

Father, but is of the world.

And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof ;

but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.        60


by Henry Vaughan

WEIGHING the stedfastness and state

Of some mean things which here below reside,

Where birds, like watchful clocks, the noiseless date

And intercourse of times divide,

Where bees at night get home and hive, and flow’rs

Early, as well as late,

Rise with the sun and set in the same bow’rs ;


I would—said I—my God would give

The staidness of these things to man ! for these

To His divine appointments ever cleave,

And no new business breaks their peace ;

The birds nor sow nor reap, yet sup and dine ;

The flow’rs without clothes live,

Yet Solomon was never dress’d so fine.


Man hath still either toys, or care ;

He hath no root, nor to one place is tied,

But ever restless and irregular

About this Earth doth run and ride.

He knows he hath a home, but scarce knows where ;

He says it is so far,

That he hath quite forgot how to go there.


He knocks at all doors, strays and roams,

Nay, hath not so much wit as some stones have,

Which in the darkest nights point to their homes,

By some hid sense their Maker gave ;

Man is the shuttle, to whose winding quest

And passage through these looms

God order’d motion, but ordain’d no rest.



by Henry Vaughan

THEY are all gone into the world of light !

And I alone sit ling’ring here ;

Their very memory is fair and bright,

And my sad thoughts doth clear.

It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,

Like stars upon some gloomy grove,

Or those faint beams in which this hill is dress’d,

After the sun’s remove.

I see them walking in an air of glory,

Whose light doth trample on my days :

My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,

Mere glimmering and decays.

O holy Hope ! and high Humility,

High as the heavens above !

These are your walks, and you have show’d them me,

To kindle my cold love.

Dear, beauteous Death !  the jewel of the just,

Shining nowhere, but in the dark ;

What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust,

Could man outlook that mark !

He that hath found some fledg’d bird’s nest, may know

At first sight, if the bird be flown ;

But what fair well or grove he sings in now,

That is to him unknown.

And yet, as angels in some brighter dreams

Call to the soul when man doth sleep,

So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,

And into glory peep.

If a star were confin’d into a tomb,

Her captive flames must needs burn there ;

But when the hand that lock’d her up, gives room,

She’ll shine through all the sphere.

O Father of eternal life, and all

Created glories under Thee !

Resume Thy spirit from this world of thrall

Into true liberty.

Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill

My perspective still as they pass :

Or else remove me hence unto that hill

Where I shall need no glass.

One thought on “The Metaphysical Poets

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