Donald Davie

Donald Davie is a poet and critic. Three for Water Music, a collection of poetry, and his anthology, The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse, were published last year. A memoir, These the Companions, is due out in July and Dissentient Voice: Enlightenment and Christian Dissent is to be published in June. These will be reviewed in this journal by Christopher Ricks. He now teaches at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee.

Lawful Charm

Donald Davie, 6 July 1995

Barnes’s poems prompt no new questions about poetry, and no new convictions about it. The hoariest truths about poetry will always be new and questionable to some people, especially those (they are many) who think that poetry is a certainty-free zone from which, because ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth,’ all categorical assertions are debarred as dogmatic, as ‘prescriptive’. The most modest reassertion of principles, however time-honoured and well-attested, will fall under this ban, and so it’s to be expected that even poetry so far from challenging as Barnes’s will be found, by some, to ‘raise far-reaching questions’. Moreover, it’s widely thought that poetry by its nature has to be challenging; and so to call Barnes unchallenging will be thought to set him down as inauthentic or at best third-rate. Of course he is neither:

Second Chances

Donald Davie, 22 July 1993

Patricia Beer tells how not long ago she was giving a reading at which, presumably in a question-and-answer period, one after another in her small audience savaged a poem she’d written 25 years earlier, and hadn’t included in her programme. When after a while she asked if they wouldn’t switch to one of the two hundred poems she’d written since, it turned out that the early poem was the only one any of them had read, and this because it was the one that their tutor, who was present, had photocopied from an anthology and distributed among them. Such things happen on the reading-circuit, as I can attest. And one marvels at what authors will put up with for the sake of a little transient and pitifully restricted fame; how, to get that little, they let themselves be bullied by their agents and publishers, by educationalists and cultural organisers; and one reflects how much cleaner and more decent it is to write for readers than for auditors.


Donald Davie, 27 May 1993

The Seventh Psalm is required in the Book of Common Prayer to be sung or said, in Miles Coverdale’s version, on the evening of Day One of the Church’s calendar:

Boeotian Masters

Donald Davie, 5 November 1992

I don’t know when I was so baffled by a book, or by my response to a book. Up to past the half-way mark I was delighted, finding in Murray’s prose repeatedly the dash and decisiveness that have won me over in many of his poems; after that, I was more and more turned off, left with a bad taste in my mouth, until in the end I was finding him unreadable. Partly this must have to do with the movement through the book from newspaper reviews in the Seventies to what Murray himself describes as ‘the commissioned article, the lecture and the speculative essay’. As he became famous, he got above himself, became portentous. But although this may be true, the crucial change is simply in the quality of the writing. Murray the reviewer had dash and decisiveness, and also generosity. He wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1975 a review of Auden’s Thank you, Fog which is also an obituary. After quoting stanzas in which Auden salutes Horace and Goethe, Murray wrote:

Scots wha hae gone to England

Donald Davie, 9 July 1992

In books that go on about how the English have imposed their language and their manners on other English-speaking nations (Australian, Canadian, Scottish and Welsh and Irish, others), what is striking is how that Anglocentrism, allegedly located in London and Oxbridge mostly, is supposed to be deeply satisfying to the English themselves. Robert Crawford, who pursues the argument on behalf of the Scots, avoids this mistake, detecting in a provincial Englishman like Tony Harrison a fury and resentment not surpassed by any Scot. But this is hardly a novel perception, for Harrison has achieved fame on the strength of it. In fact, it’s hard to find any English writer who isn’t provincial in origin; I’m as much a West Riding product as Tony Harrison, though I haven’t traded on it much. The outcome is obvious and ridiculous: if I have as much right to wear a chip on my shoulder as any Australian or Aberdonian, then who is left to man the supposedly overbearing metropolis, unless it is Kingsley Amis and John Betjeman? The ramparts so frailly manned should have given way long ago to the armies massed against them. What Crawford doesn’t realise is that this indeed has happened; he is sounding the bugle for an assault on a fortress that surrendered years ago.


Donald Davie, 11 June 1992

It seems now that there was always something odd about Peter Robinson’s being the editor, in 1985, of Geoffrey Hill: Essays on His Work, from the Open University Press. Robinson’s sensibility, particularly as one had encountered it in his poems, pointed away from the aloofness of Hill’s attitude to his public, and away from Hill’s lofty and recherché diction, towards something plainer, more demotically awkward, more (the word presented itself) Wordsworthian. Perhaps I’m being wise after the event: at any rate the event –this collection of nine demanding and tough-minded essays –bears me out. Wordsworth is its presiding presence; his poetry is the bar before which other poets –Auden and Eliot, Hardy and Robert Lowell and Browning. Pound and, yes, Hill – are brought to judgment.’’

Their Witness

Donald Davie, 27 February 1992

What we are given in The Poetry of Survival is, translated by numerous hands, poems by 28 poets: identified as Germans (7), Czechs (2), Yugoslavs (2), Slovene and Austrian and Romanian (1 each), Israelis (surprisingly 3) and Poles (9). This is supplemented by 9 appendices, each an interview with one of the poets represented; and this can be scored as Israeli (1), Czech (1), Yugoslav (1), Hungarian (2), Polish (4). What do we have here: a Polish take-over? Or else, rather more evidently, a map of Central and Eastern Europe that includes Germany and Israel, but not Greece, Bulgaria or Albania; not Russia, the Baltic States, Byelorussia or Ukraine. Events have outstripped the anthologist: otherwise Edvard Kocbek (1904-1981) wouldn’t appear as ‘Slovene’, whereas both Slavko Mihalic (Croat) and Vasko Popa (Serb) are ‘Yugoslav’. This is excusable. And the Greeks, it may be thought, have looked out for themselves; also, less certainly, the Russians. But what have the Bulgars done wrong? And haven’t the Israelis looked after their own interests as efficiently as the Greeks after theirs?

Browning and Modernism

Donald Davie, 10 October 1991

Browning is in high favour once again, or promises to be. Has not A.S. Byatt, CBE, declared him ‘one of the very greatest English poets’? In a switch to fighting talk, she adds that ‘his greatness has never been fully acknowledged or described … in part because he is difficult to docket in terms of the usual literary discussions of Victorian Poetry.’ We are given no example of the literary discussions allegedly ‘usual’. However, the author of Possession (Booker Prize 1990) speaks on these matters with authority, being herself a Victorian poet, industrious and prolific:

Bloom’s Bible

Donald Davie, 13 June 1991

Everybody, pretty well, says that the Authorised Version of the Bible is a national and more than national treasure, never to be surpassed. And yet everyone we listen to, down to those who read the lessons in our parish church, proceeds on the assumption that this allegedly unsurpassable text can be, and needs to be, surpassed. Everyone who undertakes to interpret the Scriptures, however modestly, begins by offering an alternative translation. It’s hard to explain this except as reflecting our light-mindedness about translation in general: our conviction that translation even at its best never attains to the status of imaginative re-creation. Translation, we think, is always a second-order activity; and accordingly it can be, even at its most splendid, tampered with.


Donald Davie, 21 March 1991

Perhaps after all some things never change. More than fifty years ago I chose as a prize from Barnsley Grammar School a book called The 100 Best English Essays, edited by the Earl of Birkenhead. (And who was he, I now wonder.) This book was very important in my education, not just for style but for substance too; and I reproach myself for having, not many years ago, let it go out of my hands. When I let it go, I thought – insofar as I gave it thought at all – that any interest it might have for strangers would be antiquarian: it was a relic from a time, not so long ago, when for the aspiring young the printed word, and that special kind of it called literature, was a medium not seriously challenged by any other. That time was surely gone, I thought, and printed literature now had a hard time claiming even parity with competing media like film, rock and reggae music, multi-media happenings, what have you. But bless me, it seems I was wrong. For if John Gross isn’t duplicating for a later generation what the Earl of Birkenhead did for mine, I don’t know what he and the marketing managers at Oxford University Press think they are doing. What readers can they think they are catering for, if not such callow and eagerly attentive 18-year-olds as I was fifty years ago?’

Pound and the Perfect Lady

Donald Davie, 19 September 1985

Thanks to Clive Wilmer among others, an exhibition of paintings, sculptures, photographs and printed material bearing on Pound’s interests in ‘the visual arts’ was mounted for the Cambridge Poetry Festival on 14 June, and could be seen in Cambridge’s not sufficiently renowned Kettle’s Yard Gallery until 4 August; it will now be at the Tate from 11 September to 10 November. Humphrey Carpenter’s report on the exhibition for the TLS of 28 June will hardly choke the turnstiles. The show has, he said, ‘something of the air of a school reunion about it’, and with a few exceptions ‘it is the Pound business much as usual.’ No one, he thinks, who is unfamiliar with ‘Pound’s P.T. Barnumising for the visual arts’ will know what to make of it. This tone is intolerable, and augurs very ill for Carpenter’s biography of Pound, said to be in the works. No one who reads the three solid essays in what is described as the catalogue of the exhibition (though it isn’t quite that) can think that ‘Barnumising’ in any way describes Pound’s ardent response to painting and sculpture, photography and architecture, first in London 1908-1920, then in Paris 1920-1925, and thereafter in Italy. Carpenter, predictably, finds the three essayists – Richard Humphreys, John Alexander and Peter Robinson – ‘taking a rather solemn approach to the whole thing’; whereas, he assures us, Pound’s exertions on behalf of these arts partook ‘more than a little of the amiable joke’. Before it is through, Pound’s centenary year will bring on indigestion in even the most devoted Poundians. But whether his artistic life was, as a few think, exemplary, or, as rather more think, a fearsomely cautionary fable, it is at all events a matter of some solemnity, and the amused weariness of we-have-heard-it-all-before will not serve in 1985 as it did in 1920 or 1940 or even, scandalously, as late as fifteen years ago. We have not heard it all before, unless we have read, as few of us have, Harriet Zinnes’s compendium Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts, which all these essayists draw on very heavily. Amiable joking was never what Pound intended, and only a total insensitivity to his tone of voice could lead one to think otherwise.

Pound’s Friends

Donald Davie, 23 May 1985

Number ten in the Unwin Critical Library, Peter Makin’s book is very good. No one can say with any confidence that it will attract new readers to Pound ’s immense poem; and in fact one of its great virtues is that it doesn’t try to minimise how difficult The Cantos is, and always will be. The difficulties are of three kinds: first, those inseparable from the nature of the enterprise (i.e. epic); second, those inseparable from Pound’s temperament; lastly, those involved with the political and other vicissitudes endured by Pound through his more than fifty years labour on the poem. Devoted work by commentators through now several decades has in one sense ‘cleared up’ difficulties in each of these areas: for, though The Cantos have attracted a quota of pedants and loonies, that quota is surprisingly small, and most Poundians have worked harder and more responsibly than, for instance, the Hardyans have. But their clearings-up necessarily partake of the refractory and multifarious and arcane nature of the text that they work with, and of the sources of that text; and so mastering the elucidations is not much easier than mastering the poem. The Cantos is or are, and through any foreseeable future will remain, ‘caviare to the general’: and yet there they sprawl, a labyrinthine ruin (to put the case at its worst) plumb in the middle of whatever we understand by Anglo-American Modernism in poetry. Anyone may be excused for deciding that life is too short for coming to terms with The Cantos: but if we make that decision we thereby disqualify ourselves from having any opinion worth listening to, about the poetry in English of this century.

Four Poems

Donald Davie, 21 March 1985

Recollections of George Oppen in a Letter to a Friend

‘This lime-tree bower my prison’

                                        Coleridge That lime-tree – no, what is it?...


Donald Davie, 7 March 1985

For the rather few people nowadays who still believe that modernism was something that really happened to or in our poetry, something of which the energies are not yet spent, three names are commonly brought up to show that the modernist impetus survived in the generation after Pound: David Jones, Anglo-Welshman; Basil Bunting, Northumbrian Englishman; and Hugh MacDiarmid, Lowland Scot. The claim for Jones seems the weakest: it is advanced by Jones’s admirers, not by the poet himself, who took no interest in the question, having other fish to fry; and unlike most modernists, Jones had no patience with prosody. The claim for Bunting is not contested, and seems incontestable. As for MacDiarmid, he certainly made the claim for himself, loudly. But as in other matters on which he declared himself, the loudness is itself suspect: he goes through some modernist motions, and contrives modernist surfaces, but in ways that can seem mechanical and programmatic, asking us to take the will for the deed. And he bad not much more interest in prosody than David Jones.

Other Poems and Other Poets

Donald Davie, 20 September 1984

Landor wrote: ‘Many, although they believe they discover in a contemporary the qualities which elevate him above the rest, yet hesitate to acknowledge it; part, because they are fearful of censure for singularity; part, because they differ from him in politics or religion; and part, because they delight in hiding, like dogs and foxes, what they can at any time surreptitiously draw out for their sullen solitary repast. Such persons have little delight in the glory of our country …’ This admonition (especially the last sentence) is what I try to hold in mind when I give my sense of Charles Tomlinson’s poetry.

Fallen Language

Donald Davie, 21 June 1984

If, when we rhyme ‘tomb’ with ‘womb’, we conceive that we are making a connection never before thought of, we are innocent indeed; and our innocence will rightly be derided – as a callowness in ourselves which the language that we use, British English, has long ago grown out of. We have shown ourselves to be less grown-up than the language that we attempt to bend to our immature purposes – an attempt that the language itself frustrates by appealing, implicitly and inevitably, to English-language-users more worldly-wise than we are. If this is true (it is a matter seldom canvassed), out of many possibilities that spring to mind two should be noticed: first, we may conceive of a language – as it might be Russian, or even American English – that is less worldly-wise than British English; and secondly we may conceive of, and even think that we register around us, a linguistic community – users of British English – which by wilful or enforced ignorance of past usages may force their experienced language back into inexperience, to a point where rhyming ‘tomb’ with ‘womb’ may once again seem to be innocent, a thunderclap of unheralded revelation.–

Fit and Few

Donald Davie, 3 May 1984

‘Fit audience, though few,’ said Milton; and thereupon declared the terms in which the issue of reader-response would be considered by poets from his day to ours. The widely-read author asks: ‘How many of these many readers are fit readers?’ And the non-selling author asks: ‘Are the fit readers so few?’ The first predicament is the worse. For the non-selling author can always blame his publisher, or his distributors; whereas the best-selling author, weeping all the way to the bank, has no one to blame but himself. If he is in earnest – and if he isn’t we’ll not bother with him, any more than David Trotter does – he thought that he was testing his society by moving out to the periphery of that society, speaking for and with the disaffected, the vagabonds, the ill-adjusted. How disconcerting, then, to find that the disaffection he thought he was speaking for had struck a loudly answering chord from the settled centre! That is the predicament of Larkin, of Hughes, of Heaney: each of them initially supposing himself a marginal person speaking up for marginal people, yet forced to recognise – as the royalty statements convey their gratifying yet unnerving message – that the stance he had thought of as special was on the contrary representative. The Making of the Reader doesn’t explicitly make this point, but it’s one necessary inference from David Trotter’s exceptionally strenuous argument.–


Donald Davie, 2 February 1984

Andrew Crozier has lately written an exceptionally searching essay about British poetry since 1945, in which Norman MacCaig is named just once in passing. There is nothing wrong with that; Crozier isn’t attempting one of those limp ‘surveys’ in which everyone who deserves mention gets it. All the same I have the impression that a nod in passing – usually, it’s true, complimentary – is the most that MacCaig normally gets from any of us. If so, it isn’t good enough. Or so I feel, having enjoyed and admired his latest collection (by my count his 14th) more than any other book of verse in a long time.–


Donald Davie, 5 May 1983

At the end of a recent and refreshingly untypical poem R.S. Thomas, recalling his sea-captain father, addresses him where he lies in his grave:

Poem: ‘For Ivor Gurney’

Donald Davie, 3 March 1983


Poor thing, perfection; you Came down to it though, at last. Mother-of-pearl!

Your lot were done for: not On account of the War, which you Knew made a poet of Ledwidge;

But because you would not, Any of you, settle For less than ecstasy.

Jacked up to that, its rough And windy contours, nothing But neurasthenia could

Cut you down to what The Ancients settled for:Krater and Patera.


Gurney’s Flood

Donald Davie, 3 February 1983

Many years ago Thom Gunn remarked: ‘To write poetry without knowing, for example, about the proper use of runovers used to be considered as impertinent as it would be now to apply for a job as a truck driver without knowing how to shift gear.’ (Wearily, in a sanguine attempt not to be misunderstood, he added: ‘It is true that being able to shift gears does not mean that one can drive straight or that one has the necessary stamina to keep the job, but it is a prerequisite.’) Geoffrey Grigson, so much older than Gunn (he is 77), has of course built his career about being considered impertinent, so it’s not surprising to find in his latest collection (his first was in 1939) runovers like these:

Cambridge Theatre

Donald Davie, 19 August 1982

Sue Lenier’s poems occupy 70 closely printed pages, of which I have read – the things I do for LRB! – 50 or so. If ‘read’ is the word for what one does, or can do, with language like this:

Looking Up

Donald Davie, 15 July 1982

In the past, I have been persuaded by those like Colin Falck who have thought Thom Gunn’s distinctive and great achievement was to have re-established creative connections with at least one aspect of Shakespeare, and with some of Shakespeare’s great contemporaries, notably Marlowe and Donne. Gunn, I believe, liked this notion, and Clive Wilmer endorses it in his excellent and too...

Poem: ‘Argonauts’

Donald Davie, 15 July 1982

for Robert Conquest

Exotic stimulations! Our passions pulled so loose From anything we might Share with our congeners, Why should we not refuse Their craven fabrications?

Conquest (what a name for The emulous and mettled!), How can you think the score Settled by mere good humour? Confess a covert wish for The Orphic, the unfettered.

And so why not dismiss The island’s tame requirements?...

Prize Poems

Donald Davie, 1 July 1982

The Arvon Foundation’s 1980 Anthology contains four splendid poems: Stephen Watts’s ‘Praise Poem for North Uist’, and Keith Bosley’s ‘Corolla’; Aidan Carl Mathews’s ‘Severances’, and John Levett’s ‘The Photographs of Paris’. The first two are longish, the others shorter. The only one that won a prize – and that the smallest, £100 – is ‘Corolla’, a sequence of nine exactly rhymed and metred sonnets, culminating in a stunning version of the Ronsard sonnet that defeated Yeats:


Donald Davie, 20 May 1982

The imagination is always worth defending, and is usually in need of defence. But it is not always clear what or whom it needs to be defended against. Some might think, for instance, that the imagination is always under threat from the people who, twenty years ago, ‘extrapolating from trends’, judged that ‘the steady increase since the war in the numbers in sixth forms, and in those getting good results in their A-level examinations, would continue.’ But for Helen Gardner, who served at that time on the Robbins Committee on Higher Education, those confident extrapolators of trends figure cosily enough as ‘our statisticians’; and she is not assailed by any suspicion that she, as representing the literary imagination on that committee, might have been expected to distrust these predictions, on the grounds that desire for higher education, and the capacity to profit by it, might imaginably depend on factors less quantifiable than a post-war baby-bulge. The imagination that Dame Helen would defend is indeed a brisk and businesslike person, public-spirited, good on committees; it could hardly be mistaken for a creature of the same name defended long ago by William Blake.

Hearing about Damnation

Donald Davie, 3 December 1981

This volume represents more than forty years work by one of the most earnestly devoted and intelligent of our poets. Accordingly it must be considered deliberately, and at some length.

My Americas

Donald Davie, 3 September 1981

We have all been told about the demographic shift in the United States from the North-East to the Sun Belt of the South-West; and the commentators on politics have been eager to explain that among the consequences of this shift is the Reagan Presidency. But our perception of US life and letters has not yet been affected; our listening posts on this side of the Atlantic seldom pick up the weak signals from Tucson or Albuquerque, on a wave-band still blanketed by the vociferous transmitters of New York. And perhaps this is just as well: for one shudders to anticipate the strenuously polemical ‘study’, perhaps to appear any day soon, that will see in any sympathetic concern with Spanish-speaking or pueblo cultures only some PR manoeuvre by the Reagan political machine. But of course the chronology won’t fit. Death comes for the Archbishop, though it is remembered by an Anthony Powell character only as the name of a lethal cocktail, is the title of a frail and delicate masterpiece by Willa Cather, that much underrated writer, which more than fifty years ago delineated the shape that North American civilisation would assume in the mind if its metropolis were taken to be, not New York or Boston, Philadelphia or Washington, San Francisco or LA, but what the historical records establish as older than any of them, the most ancient city of North America: Santa Fe, New Mexico. And in the years since, that appealing perspective has never been lost sight of altogether. Rather, because it has never since found a promulgator so powerful and independent as Cather, the vista has been, by the opinion-makers of the North-East, domesticated and trivialised: Santa Fe is acknowledged as a milieu of aesthetes and weirdos, and Texas is handed over to the media-merchants who make Dallas. It is recognised that life in the states of the South-West has taken in the past, and may yet take again, a distinctive shape: but the distinction is dealt with by allowing that the life is, like the landscapes where it happens, picturesque and bizarre. And after all ‘picturesque’ and ‘bizarre’ are epithets that we need not withhold from some of the most alarming Reaganites, or the most impudent of philistines.



9 June 1994

Edward Wilson (Letters, 7 July) describes as ‘mistaken’ my view that Isaac Watts’s speaking of Christ’s blood as a crimson robe derives from ‘the idealising and yet sensuously saturated art of the Counter-Reformation’. On the contrary, he says, ‘the image is actually from Isaiah 63.1-3’ in the Authorised Version. But ‘derived from’ is not...

Their Witness

27 February 1992

I’m exceptionally grateful to George Hyde for his letter (Letters, 12 March), and am the more anxious to clear up a couple of misunderstandings.1. When I described Swirszczynska as ‘honorary graduand of the careerists’ academy’, I meant that she has been used by them as a totem-figure, a sort of mascot, therefore one of their exploited victims. 2. Still less did I accuse translators...

Browning and Modernism

10 October 1991

Concerning half-rhymes and eye-rhymes, John Woolford and Daniel Karlin (Letters, 7 November) say I go wrong ‘in associating Browning’s use of such problematic rhymes solely with formal closure’. But I never denied that Browning and many other poets (including myself, as they gratifyingly notice) use such rhymes in medias res. My point was that when such rhymes occur in circumstances...
SIR: Jonathan Raban (LRB, 23 July), telling us that ‘in 1972 the “Poundian revolution" still looked as if it was carrying the world before it,’ alleges, as evidence of this, that ‘with his Essex Poems, even Donald Davie, the very type of the English conservative poet-critic, appeared to have capitulated to “American" Modernism.’ Though I don’t much like being...
SIR: Poor, timorous Tom Paulin (Letters, 5 July)! Sheltering in Virginia from the ‘brutal populism’ that resents being told what it should like (Virgil) and what it shouldn’t (Ovid)!
SIR: Tom Paulin (LRB, 17 May) begins a review with paragraphs of potted lit. hist. about translators of the Aeneid: Gavin Douglas, Surrey, Dryden, Day Lewis – the usual list. Is Paulin, then, winding up to a review of a book about translating Virgil? Not at all: the book he has before him, Charles Tomlinson’s Poetry and Metamorphosis, is about translating (and imitating, adapting, assimilating)...


5 May 1983

Donald Davie writes: Why is it mean of me to report that Michael Millgate is thought to be more temperate and more compassionate than Robert Gittings? If my informants found him also more boring, that may mean only that, like many of us, they enjoy a cruel book more than a kind one. I am touched by Alan Hurst’s plea to me to ‘come home’, and I hope he is right that this would sort...

Gurney’s Flood

3 February 1983

Donald Davie writes: Mr Abramovitch reads carelessly. Nowhere did I say that ‘Gurney wrote no poem that succeeds as a whole.’ And I specifically dismissed as piffle the notion that Gurney was ‘too big a poet to bother about perfection’. In my review I specified by title no less than 36 poems by Gurney, and of these specified ten (which I would augment to 15) as ‘perfected’.

Enlarging Insularity: Donald Davie

Patrick McGuinness, 20 January 2000

In a recent poem, ‘Languedoc Variorum: A Defence of Heresy and Heretics’, the American poet Ed Dorn honours Donald Davie’s penultimate collection of poems, To Scorch or Freeze...

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In Love

Michael Wood, 25 January 1996

He suffered fools grimly, because he thought there were so many of them, but he was himself far from grim. His laugh was a cross between a splutter and a chuckle, as if the joke had been cooking...

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In praise of manly piety

Margaret Anne Doody, 9 June 1994

Donald Davie is already known for – among many other things – his striking comments on the hymns of Watts and Wesley in A Gathered Church: The Literature of the English Dissenting...

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Christ’s Teeth

C.K. Stead, 10 October 1991

‘Dates, dates are of the essence; and it will be found that I date quite exactly the breakdown of the imaginative exploit of the Cantos: between the completion of the late sequence called...

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C.H. Sisson, 27 September 1990

What sort of a poet is Donald Davie? The factual answer, as with all poets, is to be found only in a volume such as the Collected Poems which he now lays before the public, but Davie himself...

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Davie’s Rap

Neil Corcoran, 25 January 1990

One of the finest things in Donald Davie’s Under Briggflatts is a sustained, learned and densely implicative comparison of two poems about horses: Edwin Muir’s well-known,...

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Lyrics and Ironies

Christopher Ricks, 4 December 1986

Faintly repelled by elaborate theories of irony and by taxonomies of it, D.J. Enright has set himself to muster instances, observations, localities and anecdotes. There is no continuing argument,...

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Ten Poets

Denis Donoghue, 7 November 1985

One of Donald Davie’s early poems, and one of his strongest, is ‘Pushkin: A Didactic Poem’, from Brides of Reason (1955). As in Davie’s ‘Dream Forest’, Pushkin...

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Clean Poetry

John Bayley, 18 August 1983

The Acmeist poet Zenkevich declared in 1911 that when he first met Anna Akhmatova he was struck by her saying that poetry was ‘something organic’, and that she was amused at the idea...

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Christopher Ricks, 16 September 1982

Donald Davie’s critical arguments are often happily reminiscential, and his reminiscences are often happily argumentative, so the difference in kind between these two admirable books...

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Poetry and Christianity

Barbara Everett, 4 February 1982

‘Water-Music’ makes in itself a fine concept, through the delicate difference of its components, water being transparent though sometimes audible, music being always audible and...

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Donald Davie and the English

Christopher Ricks, 22 May 1980

‘Since Byron and Landor, no Englishman appears to have profited much from living abroad.’ So said an American who rightly believed himself to be profiting from living abroad, T.S....

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