Metaphysical poetry was a term coined by Dr Johnson. It is a definition that has provoked many disagreements among scholars with regard to whom the description applies. To TS Eliot, it meant a “dissociation of sensibilities”, a separation of thoughtful expression from the experienced feelings that inspired the composition. To critics like Eliot, metaphysical poetry is often characterised by a sophisticated use and development of conceits and metaphors and a shunning of lyricism in favour of rhetoric. It is a loose explanation that has galvanised little consensus but it does elucidate some of the qualities of this week’s poet, Andrew Marvell.
Holbein’s tiny portrait projects us into a private moment in the life of an ordinary middle-class woman living in the reign of Henry VIII.