Literary Term Conceit

Literary Term Conceit

Conceit refers to an extended metaphor that draws a clever and elaborate comparison between two dissimilar things. In the Elizabethan and Metaphysical poetry periods, conceits were particularly popular. 

In literature, conceit refers to an extended metaphor or a complex analogy between two seemingly dissimilar things. There are primarily two types of conceits:

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  • Metaphysical Conceit: This type of conceit was particularly popular in the poetry of the metaphysical poets in the 17th century. It involves drawing elaborate and often strained analogies between two very different things. For instance, in John Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” he compares the connection between two lovers to a compass. The fixed foot of the compass remains while the other roams, much like one lover staying grounded while the other explores the world, yet both remain connected.
  • Petrarchan (or Elizabethan) Conceit: This type of conceit was prevalent in the poetry of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, particularly in sonnets. For instance, likening the eyes of a lover to celestial bodies or comparing the lover to a ship navigating through storms. Shakespeare’s sonnets contain numerous examples of Petrarchan conceits, where he explores the complexities of love using detailed comparisons.

The function of Conceit: 

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  1. Expressing Complex Ideas: Conceits allow writers to explore abstract or complex ideas by likening them to more concrete or familiar concepts. This helps readers understand or grasp complex themes or emotions.
  2. Heightened Imagery: They create vivid and striking imagery by connecting disparate elements. This vividness captures attention and enhances the overall impact of the writing.
  3. Emotional Impact: Conceits can evoke strong emotions or create powerful connections and emotional responses from the reader.
  4. Intellectual Challenge: Crafting a conceit often involves intellectual complexity. This challenges both the writer and the reader to make connections between clearly unrelated ideas.
  5. Illustrating Paradoxes or Contradictions: Conceits are useful in illustrating paradoxes or contradictions. This shows how seemingly conflicting ideas or elements can coexist or relate to each other.

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  1. Symbolism and Allegory: They serve as symbolic devices, allowing writers to represent abstract concepts or moral ideas through concrete and real images.
  2. Highlighting Unconventional Beauty: Conceits often highlight beauty in unexpected places or through unconventional comparison.
Riya Akter
Riya Akter
Hey, This is Riya Akter Setu, B.A (Hons) & M.A in English from National University.


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