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Caroline Era

The Age of Caroline is an age in British history that is named for Charles I. It lasted from 1625 to 1649. It is made up of three poetic schools— Metaphysical, Cavalier and Puritan.

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. 

Of these, metaphysical poetry is the best-known. It included the use of colloquial diction, new and original conceits, irony, the relaxed use of meter, and philosophical exploration.

Caroline Era


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


Puritan 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.

Cavalier Poetry 

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 

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

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick

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.’ 

FAQs

What are the defining elements of metaphysical poetry?

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.

What does the word “metaphysical” mean in literature?

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.

What is the difference between cavalier and metaphysical poetry?

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.

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