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Home » » What is a metaphysical wit? Give some examples of Donne's wit and comment on them?
'Wit' literally means a clever and humorous expression of some ideas but in metaphysical sense it is more than this. Wit may be explained as the saying of fine sparking things which startle and amuse. The wit is to be discovered in the clever and ingenuous use of words, rather than in the content of a poem. It is an intellectual activity which consists in the poet's perception of similarity in dissimilarity and the ingenuity with which he brings together and combines opposites, whether in words or ideas.
Donne's wit

The distinctive features of Donne's wits are:

(a) It surprises the reader with its intellectual vigour and agility 
(b) It is not merely a clever use of words, because it fuses his emotion with thought,

(c) Its source is the most amazing and varied learning of the poet, 

(d) His wits are often deliberately shocking and impudent in the discovery of comparisons and analogies but they are always argumentative, 

(e) There is a juxtaposition of ideas which seem at first sight unrelated and discordant and by their reconciliation in the heat of the poet's imagination, a more coherent and organic body of truth is achieved than is attainable by the use of familiar comparisons. 

(f) His wit lies in the blend of feeling and not merely of opposite concepts. 

For example,

"She's all states, and all princes I, Nothing else is,

"In these two lines of "The Sun Rising", the beloved is compared to all the states of the world and the poet to all the monarchs of the world, and again they are united into one. In other words, there are no states and kings outside the poet and his beloved, who have made a perfect world. Again the lover's bed-room is considered to be the epitome of the whole world as in the following lines: 'Shine here on us and thou art everywhere.' " This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere'. Here, the poet asks the sun to shine on them only and if so, it would be as if the sun were shining over the whole world.Donne's wit is of immense variety. It is found in his use of poems, word play, oxymoron, paradox, etc. Thus, in "The Canonization", Donne's wit is seen in his reference to the king's real and his stamped face.

" Observe His Honour, or His Grace,Or the King's real or his stamped face"

As a courtier a man may watch the real face of the king or he may enter a business and during his dealing with money he may see the king's image stamped on coins.

Donne's wit is also found in his ingenious comparisons, analogies and arguments. He constantly discovers similarities at the most unlikely places and, by this peculiar resemblance, he not only amuses but also surprises his reader, and proves his point of view.

Donne's wit is the expression of varied moods and tones, ranging from the gay and playful mood - seen in the contrast between the two worlds, the world of the lovers and the geographical world, to the dark and cynical mood as in "Go and Catch a Falling Star". At other times Donne's wit is marked by ironic tone.

To sum up, the secret of Donne's wit lies in his mental strength and intellectual power. It is an expression of his rational outlook on life, an embodiment of his poetic sensibility and a reflection of his vision of life. It is a powerful instrument by which he reverses or demolishes our most cherished values and ideals.


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