THERE IS NO ready or exact critical measure for the modern metaphysical. Few poets in any period have been exclusively that, and some outside the tradition have produced true metaphysical poems. And the twentieth century experiences more diverse esthetic influences than any comparable previous era. But those who are first of all mystics, symbolists, surrealists, or imagists, shall we say, have been modified by the metaphysical trend. Conversely, authentic metaphysicals are sometimes diverted into other channels of expression by circumstances or by a change in their interests. A few figures, therefore, who have in our day made a special and affinitive contribution to the metaphysical idiom should suffice illustratively.
Eliot stands head and shoulders above other poets as a major influence, more or less consistent in practice. Of the Fugitive group, Ransom, Tate, and Warren may be regarded as representative. The whole work of Hart Crane and Elinor Wylie can already be seen in the round. MacLeish's provocative career parallels the lift and peak of the metaphysical impulse and its decline in the 1930's, when various poets were swept into a mood of intense social participation by the imminence of World War II. Thus in these seven poets one may approach a composite portrait of the modern metaphysical.
Undoubtedly, many others could be chosen for a different or a fuller treatment, from Louise Imogen Guiney to José Garcia Villa. Laura Riding and Donald Davidson take their place in a more complete discussion of the Fugitives. Though primarily a symbolist, Stevens has a decidedly metaphysical turn of mind.