The word “Caroline” comes from the name “Charles,” king of England from 1625 to 1649. During this period, poetry was divided into three categories: Metaphysical, Cavalier, and Puritan.
Explore The Age of Caroline
Caroline Era Definition
The Age of Caroline, or the Caroline Era, is a period in English history and literature that’s defined by three poetic movements.
These are explored in detail below but are unified by the fact that they all occurred around the time of the reign of Charles I.
- Puritan poetry
- Cavalier poetry
- Metaphysical poetry
Puritanism began in England in the 17th century. The poets who were part of this movement did not agree with the use of a great deal of figurative language, like metaphors, and refrained from using overly poetic language. Some of the best-known puritan poets are John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, and John Dryden.
The Cavalier Poets were a group of writers from the 17th century in England. They are generally defined by their class and the fact that they originated from that which supported Charles I during the English Civil War. Sometimes, the cavalier poets were looked down on because they created the art that King Charles was interested in and often worked in his service. Poets of this movement include Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, and Richard Lovelace.
Metaphysical poetry is marked by the use of elaborate figurative languages, original conceits, paradoxes, and philosophical topics. Important writers of this movement included George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan. John Donne is the best-known metaphysical poet. His poetry is often cited as the best example of the movement.
One of the most prominent characteristics of this movement is the spoken quality of the poetry, something that many other writers of that time did not approve of. Other common features include the use of colloquial diction, philosophical exploration, new and original conceits, irony, and the relaxed use of the meter.
Poets who were part of this movement were often seeking answers to questions like: “Does God exist?” and “Is humanity really free?”
Examples of Literature in The Age of Caroline
This famous piece of poetry, created during the Age of Caroline, includes a speaker’s beliefs about the impact of time on a woman’s life. He also discusses what he sees as the value of beauty.
‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ begins with the speaker stating that a woman should do everything she can while she is young to take advantage of the love others want to give her. She will be more appreciated while she is young and beautiful. Consider these lines, including the famous opening line, from the poem:
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Herrick emphasizes the classic, oppressive opinion of women as being valuable only when they’re beautiful. These were common features of his work and can be seen throughout other examples of cavalier poetry created during the Age of Caroline.
Discover more Robert Herrick poems.
The Flea by John Donne
‘The Flea’ is one of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphysical poem (along with ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’). It is also one of Donne’s best. The poem makes a familiar argument in a very original way. Here are some of the best-known 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; […]
Donne uses a great example of a conceit or a new and original metaphor that’s unexpected somehow. His speaker suggests to a woman that he wants to sleep with that it’s fine for them to get together because the same flea has fed on the blood from both their bodies. They’re already experienced their fluids mixing.
Explore more John Donne poems.
Why is The Age of Caroline Important?
The Age of Caroline encompasses some of the most important poetry in the English language. This includes the work of poets like John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, John Donne, and Robert Herrick. During this period of poetry, the English language saw the composition of pieces like ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,’ and ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.’
Metaphysical poetry is defined by the exploration of philosophical topics, wit, and a looser use of meter. These poems often touched on contemporary scientific advancements as well.
The word metaphysical is used to describe a concept in literature in which things are defined by something non-physical. Metaphysical writing is concerned with intangible experiences and feelings.
Cavalier poems are far more evenly structured and formal than metaphysical poems. The latter intentionally uses unusual patterns and rhymes, or neither. They were also more interested in philosophical exploration and the use of conceits and irony.
Related Literary Terms
- Aestheticism: a literary and artistic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries that focused on the importance of beauty.
- Augustan Age: a period during the first half of the 18th century in England. Poets during this period created verse inspired by authors like Virgil and Ovid.
- Georgian Poetry: a poetic movement in England that lasted from 1910 to 1936 during the reign of George V.
- Metaphysical Poetry: marked by the use of elaborate figurative languages, original conceits, paradoxes, and philosophical topics.
- Realism: a literary movement that portrays everyday life exactly how it is.