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An elaborate metaphor comparing two apparently dissimilar objects or emotions, often with an effect of shock or surprise. The Petrarchan conceit, much imitated by Elizabethan sonneteers and both used and parodied by Shakespeare, usually evoked the qualities of the disdainful mistress and the devoted lover, often in highly exaggerated terms; the Metaphysical conceit, as used by Donne and his followers, applied wit and ingenuity to, in the words of Dr Johnson, ‘a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike’ e.g. Donne's famous comparison of two lovers to a pair of compasses.

Subjects: Literature.

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