John Donne and the Line of Wit: From Metaphysical to Modernist is a study of influence, adaptation, historical imitation and invention. In his own time, Donne was celebrated for his distinctive style, especially for what his contemporaries recognized as "strong lines," that is, witty conceits or unusual, often unexpected and surprising comparisons. Donne's "metaphysical wit" fell out of fashion in the later seventeenth century, not to be significantly explored and revived until the early twentieth century, and then notably by the modernist movement in the years that followed Eliot's Waste Land (1922).
Among the most important - and earliest - of poets and critics to respond to this movement are the self-styled Fugitives of the southern United States. As "fugitives" they stood against what seemed old and shop-worn language, and they gave their name and talent to the literary journal published at Vanderbilt University from 1922–25: The Fugitive provided an outlet for the work of John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, and others, who discovered a "new" modernism that might be shaped out of the "old" metaphysical mode of Donne. Their poetry is characteristically concerned with verbal or "metaphysical" invention, usually composed with metrical formality, and from an objective, detached point of view.
About the author
P.G. Stanwood, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of British Columbia, is the former president of the John Donne Society of America, with a special interest in Renaissance poetry and its continuing influence on contemporary writing. His books and editions include John Donne and the Theology of Language and also Selected Prose of Christina Rosetti. Many of his essays are collected in The Sempiternal Season: Studies in Seventeenth-Century Devotional Writing, including “Time and Liturgy in Donne, Crashaw, and T.S. Eliot. ” A wide-ranging study on “The Structure of Wit” (with Lee M. Johnson) appeared in The Wit of Seventeenth-Century Poetry (Columbia, MO, 1995).