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ad hoc, post hoc, metaphysical poetry, feminism


T.S. Eliot has remarked that "[n]ot only is [it] extremely difficult to define metaphysical poetry, but [it is] difficult to decide what poets practise it and in which of their verses." Although the terminology was initially ad hoc, post hoc, and somewhat hostile, the adjective has been transvalued and it “stuck.” But ever since John Dryden accused John Donne of affecting “the metaphysics,” and “perplexing the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy,” and long before Samuel Johnson wrote that the metaphysical poets were “men of learning,” there has been a tacit assumption that women did not or could not comprehend or compose metaphysical poetry. In the anthologies of Herbert Grierson or Helen Gardner and in the critical studies of Joan Bennett, George Williamson, Louis Martz, et alii, metaphysical poets are almost always men. Nonethe- less, in 1994 Louise Schleiner observed that Anne Southwell (1573– 1636) is “a female ‘metaphysical’ poet and direct associate of John Donne, who should have been receiving study along with Donne, Herbert, Carew, and company.”