Glossary

Term: Conceit


The Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century enjoyed creating particularly audacious metaphors and similes to compare very unlike things, and drawing attention to how skilfully they could sustain this comparison; this became known as the conceit. The classic example is probably Donne's 'The Flea', in which a flea-bite is compared to a marriage, and like most conceits, the extended comparison is more notable for its invention than its believability.

Within the Archive, a good example is Michael Donaghy's 'Machines', comparing a piece of harpsichord music to a bicycle, while drawing attention to its own balancing act in its opening line. The elaborate development of the piano/feminine imagery in George Szirtes' 'Piano' suggests a conceit, but as it is more modest about drawing attention to itself, some critics may prefer to think of this as an extended metaphor.

How to use this term

The conceit of the body as luggage animates Peter Goldsworthy's 'Morbid Song'.

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