Conceit Meaning Definition Classification & Example


Conceit Meaning Definition Classification & Example

Conceit Meaning Definition Classification & Example


Conceit is a fanciful often far-fetched fantastic idea generally made up of simile, metaphor, hyperbole, oxymoron, etc. which lends certain charms to speaking or writing and excites our sense of wonder. In brief, to say, a conceit is a fantastic discovery of occult resemblance between two apparently dissimilar things. A conceit is a means of definition or a means of illustration.

A conceit may be either brief or elaborate. A Brief Conceit is a fantastic comparison between two dissimilar things. It is like a spark made by striking two pieces of flints together.  For example, we can quote the following lines from George Herbert:

Prayer the churches banquet, Angels age.  (Prtayer-1)

An Elaborate Conceit is often long and persuasive that is used to define or prove a point of view. The metaphorical conceits are elaborate conceits. For example, the following lines from Andrew Marvell may be quoted:

”My love is of a birth as rare

As ‘tis for object: strange and high

It was begotten by Despair

Upon impossibility.” (The Definition of Love)

Broadly conceits may be divided into two types as: (1) Petrarchan Conceit and (2) Metaphysical Conceit.

The Petrarchan Conceits are the conceits that were used by the fourteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarch and his English imitators in their love poems. This type of conceit was novel and effective in the hand of Petrarch, but in the hands of his English imitators, this type of conceit became hackneyed as they used them in plenty. This type of conceit is found in the sonnets of Sir Thomas Wyatt, The Earl of Surry, Sir Philip Sidney, and even in Shakespeare. The Petrarchan Conceits were used for mere decoration. For instance, the following lines may be quoted from Shakespeare:

”Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white

Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose

They were but sweet, but figures of delight

Drawn after you.” (Sonnet No. 98)

Another example of this type of conceit may be cited from Thomas Wyatt, as:

”I find no peace and all my war is done

I fear and hope; I burn and freeze in ice.”

The Metaphysical Conceit is a fanciful, far-fetched, fantastic, ingenious, scholastic, intellectual, and learned idea or imagery made of hyperbole and exciting simile or metaphor drawn from a variety of sources as- astronomy, chemistry, physiology, theology, geography, law, etc. which is put forward as an argument to persuade, to define to illustrate or to prove a point of view.

A metaphysical conceit is not merely a decoration or ornament, but an organic part of a poem. It is used to persuade, define, illustrate or to prove a view. It stands as an argument leading a view to a conclusion.

John Donne, one of the chief metaphysical poets, was a pioneer in the use of metaphysical conceits. For example, we can cite a conceit from his poem entitled ‘A Valediction Forbiddin Mourning’ where he invokes the imagery of a compass to illustrate his static love for his beloved. He writes:

”Our two soles, therefore which are one


If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two.”

In the poem entitled ‘The Agonie’ George Herbert gives a vivid description of the effect of sin which becomes a fantastic metaphysical conceit. He writes:

Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain

To hunt his cruel food through every vein.”

Andrew Marvell in his famous love poem entitled ‘To His Coy Mistress’ gives a vivid and exciting fantastic idea of his gazing at his mistress’ physical beauty as a paragon of metaphysical conceit. He writes:

‘An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze

Two hundred to adore each breast

But thirty thousand to the rest.”

Henry Vaughan, another metaphysical poet, makes abundant use of conceits in his poems. For example, we can cite one from his poem entitled ‘The Shower’. In the very opening line  of the poem, he gives a very fanciful and fantastic idea of the birth of shower as below:

Twas so, I saw thy birth; That drowsie Lake

From her faint bosome breathe thee.”

In another poem entitled ‘The World’ he makes an image of Eternity and of Time which is an exquisite example of conceit of the metaphysical order. He writes:

”I saw the Eternity the other night

Like a great Ring of pure and endless light.” 0 0 0.

N. B. The article originally belongs to the book entitled ‘Menonimus Dictionary of Literary Terms.

Books on Literary Criticism by M. Menonimus:

  1. World Short Story Criticism
  2. World Poetry Criticism
  3. World Drama Criticism
  4. World Novel Criticism
  5. World Essay Criticism
  6. Indian English Poetry Criticism
  7. Indian English Poets and Poetry Chief Features
  8. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  9. Walt Whitman’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  10. Critical Essays on English Poetry
  11. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: Return of the Spirit-An Analytical Study
  12. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: ‘Yawmiyyat Naib Fil Arayaf’-An Analytical Study
  13. Analytical Studies of Some Arabic Short Stories
  14. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Pre-Islamic Period (500 AD-622 AD)
  15. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Early Islamic Period (622 AD-661 AD) …

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  1. Conceit Meaning Definition
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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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