Early in our century a revolution in taste restored John Donne n to his position as one of the major English poets and gave to the other "metaphysical" poets -- George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell -- a favored prominence which they had never before enjoyed. The revolution as such is long since over: Donne is no longer seen as a twentieth-century man before the fact, a taste for the Metaphysicals no longer makes all-out warfare on Milton and the Romantics an obligation, and familiarity with Donne is no longer the badge of an exclusive sensibility. But the rearrangement of our classics wrought by Eliot and the rest has been permanent; the Metaphysicals are now a central and important part of the heritage of the cultivated English or American reader, and there is no sign that they will cease to be such.
The rediscovery of the Metaphysical poets was an aspect of a larger movement in twentieth-century thought and taste -- the revaluation of the entire literary Baroque. A definition of Baroque poetry is hard to come by;1 practically it might be something like this: the dominant European literary style from the late 1500's to the late 1600's, characterized by a general extravagance of language, a tendency to exceed the limits of its medium, and a concern (thematic, but consistently mirrored____________________