Richard Leigh (poet)

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Richard Leigh (1649/50–1728) was an English poet. He belongs to the group known as the metaphysical poets.


He was the younger son of Edward Leigh (1603–1671) and Elizabeth Talbot (died 1707) of Rushall, Staffordshire. He entered Queen’s College, Oxford in 1666 at age sixteen.[1]

Sources rumor that, after school, Leigh left Oxford for London and became an actor in the Duke of York’s or King's Company. There were two other actors named “Leigh” during that period in the company, Anthony Leigh and John Leigh, but no records of a Richard Leigh in either company exist today.

While he was a young man, Leigh wrote a prose tract attacking poet John Dryden (1631–1700), entitled “The Censure of the Rota on Mr. Dryden’s Conquest of Granada”, an attack which annoyed Dryden who subsequently called Leigh ‘the Fastidious Brisk of Oxford’. Some of Leigh’s works include “Poems on Several Occasions and to Several Persons”, “Greatness in Little” (1675), “Sleeping on her Couch”, and “The Eccho”.

His will was dated March 22, 1726, proved on September 12, 1728. He was buried in the chancel of Saint Michael’s Church, Rushall.[2]

The Style of Metaphysical Poetry[edit]

Richard Leigh was amongst the British lyric poets of the 17th century known as the metaphysical poets. Though not all the poets of this school were aware of one another, most of them shared an interest in metaphysical matters.

Metaphysical- 1. Based on abstract reasoning; transcending physical matter of the laws of nature. 2. Denoting certain 17th century English Poets known for their subtlety of thought and complex imagery.

Metaphysics- 1. The branch of philosophy concerned with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being and knowing.

Metaphysical Poetry- Highly intellectualized poetry written chiefly in 17th-century England. It is marked by bold and ingenious conceits, complexity, and subtlety of thought, frequent use of paradox, and often deliberate harshness or rigidity of expression. Metaphysical poetry is chiefly concerned with analyzing feeling. It is a blend of emotion and the intellectual ingenuity, characterized by CONCEIT---that is, by the sometimes forced juxtaposition of apparently unconnected ideas and things so that the reader is startled out of complacency and forced to think through the argument of the poem. [3]

Works by Richard Leigh[edit]

Leigh wrote “The Transposer Rehearsed, or the Fifth Act of Mr. Baye’s Play; being a Post-script to the Animadversions on the Preface to Bishop Bramhall’s Vindication”and a pamphlet in 1673 attacking a Mr. Dryden’s Conquest of Grenada in a pamphlet entitled “A Censure of the Rota in Mr. Dryden’s Conquest of Granada”. Leigh also published Poems upon Several Occasions and to Several Persons (1675).

The following is an excerpted poem from “Poems upon Several Occasions and to Several Persons”. [4]

The Whisper

Fairest, what means this close address,
As if you would a hearing steal?
Since words were given thoughts to express,
Why should soft words your thoughts conceal?

While thus your mind to breathe you teach
A language secret as your thought,
You sin against the end of speech,
Which when it hides to lie is taught.

The whispering air so soft does steal,
As conscious whom it must obey,
Your secret yielding to conceal,
Without the least sound slides away.

Unwilling to spread forth the news,
As dreading to displease the fair,
It does through secret pipes diffuse,
As loth to mix with common air.

Your words with silent motions glide,
As gently as from you they came;
From ways of noise they far divide,
And leave the road of common fame.

I’ll hunt thee out where’er they bear,
And, breathing close, their steps pursue,
And, as I gather in the air,
Each breath shall voice the winds anew.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Saunders 1892.
  2. ^ Saunders & Moody 2004.
  3. ^ “Leigh, Richard.” The Encyclopedia of National Biographies. Vol XI. Kennet-Lluelyn. Reprinted 1973. Print.
  4. ^ Macdonald, Hugh, and Leigh, Richard. “Poems, Upon Several Occasions, and, to Several Persons”. 1675. Print. Google Book Search. Web. 24 Jan 2010.