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A Metaphysical Dialogue

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A Metaphysical Dialogue

Lindsey van Steenis (5650798)

D.A. Hassler-forest

British and American Culture


A Metaphysical Dialogue

An early modern poem analysed in terms of metaphysical poetry.

Poetry has been around since before classical times and has changed a lot since then. In the seventeenth-century there emerged a unique type of poetry which had a metaphysical nature. This means that people at that time were concerned with the relationship between macro- and microcosm or, in other words, the bond between the universe and ordinary objects (the physical).The style of metaphysical poets was characterized by metaphysical conceits and unusual comparisons. An example of a typical seventeenth-century metaphysical poet is Andrew Marvell. (De Waard) In this essay one of his works, "A dialogue beteen the soul and body", will be analysed in terms of the characteristics of metaphysical poetry.

In Marvell's "Dialogue between the Soul and Body'" the inner and outer human are in conflict. The inner mind complains about the confinement of the body that shrouds it. The body on the other hand resents the control of the soul and wants to get rid of it. This is made clear in the poem by the use of unusual metaphors. In the opening lines for example the body is represented as a dungeon wherein the soul (represented as slave of the body) is captured:

"O, who shall from this dungeon raise

A soul enslaved so many ways?"(NAEL 1699, ll. 1-2)

This, however, is not the only example of unusual images which are drawn together. Normally a soul would not be personified by a tyrant, but this is exactly what Marvell does. In his written "Dialogue" the body feels like it is in grasp of a tyrannic soul:

"O, who shall me deliver whole

From bonds of this tyrannic soul?"(NAEL 1699, ll. 11-12)

These are just little, unusual comparisons, but if one takes the poem as a whole there is one metaphor that might be considered the most important and essential. This metaphor is called the metaphysical conceit. In "A dialogue between the soul an body" this conceit consists of a body and a soul arguing on which member is a nuisance to the other's capabilities of breaking free from the other. This, of course, is impossible as they are mutually dependent. One way to look at this conflict is to take it literally and assume that it issues the duality in people, but if one looks further it becomes clear that it actually is a battle between an ideal world of pure spirit, and an ideal world of pure nature (which Marvell mentions explicitly in his work):

"So architects do square and hew

Green trees that in the forest grew."(NAEL 1700, ll. 43-44)


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