“…thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility.”
But what would a new metaphysical poetry look like? We've not the religious backbone that underscored these writers (and those who have that backbone seem incapable of realising how it should be flexible, not rigid). Yet, prior to the romantic finding God in nature, the metaphysicals were finding nature (or life) in a "living" God. But are our writers looking for the metaphysical? I think they are. Compare these lines from Simon Armitage's first book "Zoom!"
“Heard the one about the guy from Heaton Mersey?
Wife at home, lover in Hyde, mistress
in Newton-le-Willows and two pretty girls
in the top grade at Werneth prep.”With the last poem in his "Selected Poems" -:
“I looked for an end, for some dimension
to hold hard and resist. But I still exist.”Anecdote replaced by the unfamiliar? I think so. And the metaphysical narrative that he applied recently to the the anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack, shows he's still looking in that direction. I'm not for a minute pretending this is Armitage's primary aim, he might well be horrified to be so analysed. I only use him as a familiar example: but I think it shows that whatever the merits of an anecdotal poetry are, they have limits - and it's not the romantic imagination that can be relied on to expand that range, but a metaphysical view of the world. Yet, we are either pragmatists (we work, we buy, we play, we consume), or fundamentalists (green, Christian, nationalistic) in our every day life. The metaphysical imagination seems to require a fundamental layering of our physical needs under our mental and psychological needs, so that we cannot address the one without the other. A new Ikea is hardly what we need.
So why did I begin with that quote about "famous for 15 people?" Perhaps because the internet is moving painfully, awkwardly, and not-all-that successfully, towards this "layering." It's no more than a pragmatic solution on the one hand - and has its own fundamentalists on the other. But given a "need", can it provide a "solution?" Though Donne was famous in his life, as Dean of St. Pauls, and particularly for his later religious poetry, the poems that now make his name along with those of Marvell and Herbert, to name just two, had the smallest of circulations whilst alive. "Famous for 15 people" indeed. And it makes me ask, that in the gap between the pragmatist and the fundamentalist, how wide can our circle of understanding be? Millions can enjoy "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, untold millions can be born into a religion that affects every aspect of their life; more copies of the Ikea catalogue can be distributed by the Bible, but both will sit on the shelves of their respective pragmatist and fundamentalist audience, flicked through, at a surface level. A metaphysical sensibility has its own limits; perhaps a micro-audience of 15 people. Don't turn that dial.