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By A. J. Smith

English metaphysical poetry, from Donne to Marvell, is conspicuously witty. A. J. Smith seeks the principal value of wit within the contemplating the metaphysical poets, and argues that metaphysical wit is largely diversified from different modes of wit present in Renaissance Europe. Formal theories and rhetorics of wit are thought of either for his or her theoretical import and their value determinations of wit in perform. winning models of witty invention are scrutinized in Italian, French, and Spanish writings, in order to deliver out the character and impact of assorted varieties of wit: immodest, hieroglyphic, transformational, and others from which the metaphysical mode is distinct. He locates the root of Renaissance wit within the bought perception of the created order and a concept of literary innovation inherent in Humanist trust, which resulted in novel couplings of time and eternity, physique and soul, guy and God. but, he unearths that metaphysical wit distinctively works to find a religious presence in brilliant occasions; and he lines its dying within the 1660s to adjustments within the realizing of the flora and fauna linked to the increase of empirical technology.

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Yet the conceits singled out for censure often come from much further back. The poetry which diverted the Italian courts in the 1480s and 1490s confirmed modes of wit that persisted as long as the Aristotelean logic itself supplied the categories of invention. The scheme of places offered a prescription for ingenuity and was taken to open the way to a metaphysical endeavour of wit. A striving for wit was inherent in the practice of imitation, which fostered the use of the places for a reworking of established material.

The mistress herself is death. Whether or not their writing anticipated Gongorism — and Croce thought so little of it that he dismissed the question out of hand7 these poets initiated the modes of conceited wit which held in Europe for more than a hundred and fifty years. Tasso and Guarini are their heirs no less than Marino. What prompted this bizarre way of writing? The poetry cries out for its context. It certainly cannot be taken for the wantonness of wild men. Far from operating in the margins of their culture these poets served the most discerning patrons of their day, or any day.

Me? ' The incessant play of wit, always outgoing expectation, projects a life of the mind which is no less evident in the verve of the writing itself. The poems call for nimbleness in the reading. Serafino will carry 24 METAPHYSICAL WIT an argument through quite unpredictably so that we can never just rest in the sense going forward but must keep alert to subtle shifts of direction, fresh applications of the device, incidental kicks of wit, sudden reversals and disclosures, startling paradoxes, clinching final strokes.

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