July 1, 2010

Conceit/Metaphysical Conceit

Generally conceit is a figure of speech and the term generally denotes “idea”, “concept”, “opinion”, or a “theme”, especially one that is fantastic or eccentric to certain extent. In terminological sense, it is an elaborate, often extravagant metaphor or simile making an analogy between two totally dissimilar things or images. The point of relation between them is difficult to determine. This comparison jolts the mind. During the Renaissance period, the term indicated any particularly fanciful expression of wit, and was later used pejoratively of outlandish poetic metaphors. The term is generally associated in the contemporary usage with the 17th century English metaphysical poets. It is generally considered that John Donne is the originator of conceits. But this claim is not fully plausible, since the use of such device can also be found in the works of Petrarch and the Elizabethan poets.

The modern literary critics have used the term to mean simply the style of extended and heightened metaphor common in the Renaissance and particularly in the 17th century, without any particular indication of value. Within this critical sense, conceits are generally placed into two categories:
1. Petrarchan conceit: Petrarchan conceits are conventional comparisons imitated from the love sonnets of the Italian poet Petrarch. It is also known as Elizabethan conceit. In this type of conceit human experiences are described in terms of an extravagant metaphor or hyperbolic comparison, like the stock comparison of eyes to the sun, which Shakespeare employs in his sonnet 130:
"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun."
2. Metaphysical conceit: John Donne is the chief begetter of the metaphysical conceit. It is a more intricate and intellectual device. It startles and at the same time amuses the readers. In the metaphysical conceit, metaphors have a much more purely conceptual and thus tenuous relationship to the thing being compared. The most outstanding paradigm of conceit appears in Donne’s A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, where the poet compares the two lovers’ souls to a draftsman’s compass:
“If they be two, they are two so
As stiffe twin copmpasses are two,
Thy soule the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the ’other doe.”
The central difference between a metaphysical conceit and an Elizabethan conceit is that the former is an organic (structural) part of the poem, while the latter is a mere decorative device. The Elizabethan conceit does not convey any sorts of philosophies, while the metaphysical conceit conveys a wide range of philosophy.


“Conceit.” Wikipedia. 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.20 September 2008
Tanvir Shameem Tanvir Shameem is not the biggest fan of teaching, but he is doing his best to write on various topics of language and literature just to guide thousands of students and researchers across the globe. You can always find him experimenting with presentation, style and diction. He will contribute as long as time permits. You can find him on:


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