Baroque Poetry Characteristics
Defining the characteristics of Baroque poetry is a challenge. Author Maurice Blanchot says in his book "Faux Pas" that there is no precise historical period for Baroque poetry, nor are there "indisputable" characteristics for it. Most scholars agree that the Baroque period began at the end of the 16th century and was predominant in the 17th. However, some poetry today can be considered Baroque. Scholars do agree that all Baroque poetry has a lavish style that is unlike other schools of poetry.
Extended Use of Metaphor
The Baroque poets made heavy use of metaphor and allegory. However, even their use of metaphor was unlike that of other poets. The metaphor as used by Baroque poets "disdains obvious similarities in favor of those which reveal unseen analogies," according to "The Cambridge History of Italian Literature." For example, John Donne uses the unlikely flea to describe the union between two lovers, saying that because of the intermingling of blood, "Where we almost, nay more than married are." Baroque poetry is marked by its irregularity in language, including in its use of metaphor.
Religious and Mystical Themes
Baroque poets were interested in the religious and the mystical, finding spiritual meaning in the everyday, physical world. Metaphysical poets like Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert wrote in the Baroque style. Their work concerned subjects like time, being, essence, identity and philosophy. For example, in "Metempsychosis," Donne compares an officer to a whale, arguing that their identities are ruled by the same laws of nature. Some Baroque poets saw their work as a kind of meditation, bringing together thought and feeling in their verse. Some work was darker, seeing the world as a place of suffering and exploring spiritual torment.
Politics and Satire
Many Baroque poets wrote about political themes and changing social values. Their work challenged the current ideology and in many cases mocked it. Spanish poets, particularly, were known for their use of satire to criticize politicians and the wealthy. Poets like Quevedo were actually exiled because of their works. Quevedo's criticism is evident in poems like "Advising a friend, secure in his nobility …," in which he says, "Don't tamper with your kin's long-buried bones; you'll find more worms than crests residing there."
Baroque poetry -- and indeed all of Baroque art -- was known for its extravagance and dramatic intensity. Peter Stitt explains in his book "Uncertainty and Plenitude" that Baroque poetry used a lot of imagery and linguistic experimentation and as such, had a "tendency toward obscurity and fragmentation." Baroque poetry stands out for its daring use of language. This characteristic is found across Baroque poetry from writers of different cultures and times.
- Uncertainty and Plenitude: Five Contemporary Poets; Peter Stitt
- The Cambridge History of Italian Literature; ed. Peter Brand and Lino Pertile
- Faux Pas; Maurice Blanchot
- Don Quijote: Poetry in the Golden Age
- History World: The Baroque Era in the Arts
- Poetry Foundation: John Donne
- Sweet Briar College; Francisco de Quevedo; Professor Alix Ingber
- Plush Studios/Chris Gramly/Blend Images/Getty Images