It was primarily prevalent in England and Spain during these years and is defined by a few interesting features. These include a reliance on literary devices and a desire to write on moralizing or religious subjects. Some of this was at the Catholic Church’s insistence. Important writers of this period include John Milton, George Herbert, Francisco de Quevedo, and Miguel de Cervantes. The Metaphysical poets, like John Donne, are also commonly cited.
Explore The Baroque Period
Definition of Baroque Literature
Baroque literature was created between the 16th and 18th centuries. It is generally defined as featuring between the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods. Throughout this period, writers were interested in using literary devices quite heavily. These included examples of metaphors and symbols. Religious themes, those that were approved by the Roman Catholic Church, were also quite popular. Often, Metaphysical poets, like John Donne, are cited as having created some of the most important writing during the Baroque period.
Spanish Baroque Literature
Spanish Baroque literature was also an important part of the literary period. It was written during the 17th century and often dealt with themes of time and religion. Much of the writing produced during this period included elements of pessimism and disappointment (such as in the Renaissance ideal). Writers, like Quevedo, engaged with satire as a form of writing. One of the primary authors of this period was Miguel de Cervantes, whose first work was produced in 1585 and is best known for The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, commonly referred to as Don Quixote.
Examples of Baroque Literature
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Paradise Lost was published by John Milton in 1667. It’s an epic poem or a long, narrative work of poetry. It details the Biblical story of the “Fall of Man.” It includes details about the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and what happened after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It also features Satan as one of the primary characters. Consider these lines from Book I of Paradise Lost:
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
In these lines, readers can see examples of Milton’s skill with language, in addition to his use of literary devices. Imagery is one of the most important devices at work in this poem. Consider these lines from another section of the epic poem and how Milton uses an epic simile:
His legions—angel forms, who lay entranc’d
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th’ Etrurian shades
High over-arch’d embow’r; or scatter’d sedge
Afloat, when with fierce winds Orion arm’d
Hath vex’d the Red-Sea coast, whose waves o’erthrew
Busiris and his Memphian chivalry,
Here, he’s comparing Satan’s army to scattered autumn leaves. It’s not unusual to find epic similes and extended metaphors in Baroque literature.
Explore more of John Milton’s poems.
The Collar by George Herbert
This thoughtful piece of poetry describes a speaker’s desire to escape from his religious life and turn to one of greater freedom. He notes that he’s no longer going to stand for his life as it is. He’s going to seek out real pleasures and stop worrying about what’s wrong and what’s right. Here are a few lines from the poem:
I struck the board, and cried, “No more;
I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free, free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
He notes at the end of the poem that he’s going to be a stronger man as well.
Discover more of George Herbert’s poems.
The Flea by John Donne
‘The Flea’ is often cited as the perfect piece of metaphysical poetry. In it, Donne’s speaker uses a conceit to convince his lover to sleep with him. He describes a flea that jumps from his body to hers and sucks their blood. Together, in its body, their blood intermingles. There is no loss of honour in this act, just as there shouldn’t be if they sleep together. Here are a few lines:
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
This piece is one of Donne’s most original. The thoughtful and surprising metaphor at its heart is a great example of why his poetry remains so popular to his day.
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne
This incredible love poem includes another famous conceit. This time, comparing the love between two people to the movements of a compass. It was written for the poet’s wife in 1611 or 1612 before he left on a trip to Europe. It was published in Songs and Sonnets after the poet’s death. Here are a few lines from the poem:
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.
In this section of the text, the speaker is stating that his wife is the stable hand of the compass while he is the one who roams. Their connection always ensures that he comes back around to her again.
Explore more John Donne poems.
Baroque literature is important because, during this period, some of the most important poets were working, and some of the most influential poems were produced. The Baroque period was inspirational for the writers who followed as well.
The characteristics of this period are the use of figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, as well as other literary devices like hyperbole and imagery. These writers were often concerned with religious themes as well.
The Baroque period lasted from the 16th century to the 18th century. The specific decade or year is sometimes contested depending on the country and what elements are used to determine when the prior period ended and when the latter began.
Related Literary Terms
- Enlightenment: also known as the Age of Reason, was a period from the late 17th century through the 18th century.
- Romanticism: a movement that originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century and emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination.
- Neoclassicism: a movement interested in reviving Greco-Roman literature, art, architecture, philosophy, and theatre in the 18th century.
- Metaphysical Poetry: marked by the use of elaborate figurative languages, original conceits, paradoxes, and philosophical topics.
- Elizabethan Era: a literary period that lasted through the years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, from 1558 to 1603.
- Edwardian Period: officially lasted from 1901 to 1910, includes the reign of King Edward VII.
- Cavalier Poets: a group of writers from the 17th century in England.
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