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22 May 1980
Trying to Explain 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 213 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 85635 343 4
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... fact of being everywhere a foreigner was probably an assistance to his native wit.’ And Donald Davie, who everywhere has his native wits about him, has he profited much from living abroad? In half-praise of George Steiner, Davie floats ‘a tradition of high-flying speculation about literature, which we ...

For Ivor Gurney

Donald Davie

3 March 1983
... 1 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 ...

In praise of manly piety

Margaret Anne Doody

9 June 1994
The 18th-Century Hymn in England 
by Donald Davie.
Cambridge, 167 pp., £27.95, October 1993, 0 521 38168 1
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... 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 Interest 1700-1930 (1978). Now he has devoted an entire book to the hymn in 18th-century England – or rather, as the title indicates, he is trying to define a specific genre or set of modes and tones that constitute ‘the 18th-century hymn ...

A to Z

Ian Hamilton: Schmidt’s List

4 March 1999
Lives of the Poets 
by Michael Schmidt.
Weidenfeld, 960 pp., £22, October 1998, 0 297 84014 2
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A Critical Difference: T.S. Eliot and John Middleton Murry in English Literary Criticism, 1919-28 
by David Goldie.
Oxford, 232 pp., £35, October 1998, 0 19 812379 5
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... confidence: he is forever shuttling between received opinion (received, mostly, from his hero, Donald Davie), and ill-balanced subjectivity. Admittedly, Johnson himself was unreliable, but with him we are usually more interested in the judge than we are in those he’s judging. Johnson is a companion we want to see more of; he’s crusty and he makes ...

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? mulberry? – bower at combe’s bottom, your Brook Cottage where the light sleeps so evenly in silence one would not say even in summer’s heat it pulses ...

Lawful Charm

Donald Davie

6 July 1995
Selected Poems 
by William Barnes, edited by Andrew Motion.
Penguin, 171 pp., £6.99, May 1994, 0 14 042379 6
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Selected Poems 
by William Barnes, read by Alan Chedzoy.
Canto, £6.99
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... 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 ...

Bloom’s Bible

Donald Davie

13 June 1991
The Book of J 
translated by David Rosenberg, interpreted by Harold Bloom.
Faber, 286 pp., £14.99, April 1991, 0 571 16111 1
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... 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 ...

Playgoing

Donald Davie

27 May 1993
The English Bible and the 17th-Century Revolution 
by Christopher Hill.
Allen Lane, 466 pp., £25, February 1993, 0 7139 9078 3
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... 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: God is a righteous Judge, strong and patient:             and God is provoked every day. If a man will not turn, he will whet his sword:       he hath bent his bow, and made it ready ...

Prize Poems

Donald Davie

1 July 1982
Arvon Foundation Poetry Competion: 1980 Anthology 
by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.
Kilnhurst Publishing Company, 173 pp., £3, April 1982, 9780950807805
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Burn this 
by Tom Disch.
Hutchinson, 63 pp., £7.50, April 1982, 0 09 146960 0
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... Phyllis Koestenbaum, Barbara Moore, David MacSweeney (one out of two), Randall Garrison, Donald Stallybrass, Ellery Akers, Peter Abbs, John Hodgen, Andrew Motion, Edwin Drummond, Gregory Harrison, Gordon Mason and Robert Ballard, Isabel Nathaniel and Peter Didsbury, Anthony Edkins and Brian Cosgrove. Several get prizes, and in particular Andrew ...

Raining

Donald Davie

5 May 1983
Later Poems 
by R.S. Thomas.
Macmillan, 224 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 333 34560 6
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Thomas Hardy Annual, No 1 
edited by Norman Page.
Macmillan, 205 pp., £20, March 1983, 0 333 32022 0
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Tess of the d’Urbervilles 
by Thomas Hardy, edited by Juliet Grindle and Simon Gatrell.
Oxford, 636 pp., £50, March 1983, 0 19 812495 3
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Hardy’s Love Poems 
by Thomas Hardy, edited by Carl Weber.
Macmillan, 253 pp., £3.95, February 1983, 0 333 34798 6
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The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy. Vol. I: Wessex Poems, Poems of the Past and the Present, Time’s Laughingstocks 
edited by Samuel Hynes.
Oxford, 403 pp., £19.50, February 1983, 0 19 812708 1
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... declare my interest, for Lucas has declared it for me: his essay in the Annual is called ‘Hardy, Donald Davie, England and the English’ – a subject certainly more wide-ranging than ‘the theme of rain in Hardy’s verse’. What he takes issue with is my book of ten years ago, Thomas Hardy and British Poetry. He shouts at me a good deal: ‘Now ...

Enormities

C.H. Sisson

27 September 1990
Collected Poems 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 475 pp., £25, September 1990, 0 85635 875 4
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... 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 appears to have worried more than most practitioners about what kind of poetry he was writing and – if one can put it that way – about the politics of style ...

Cambridge Theatre

Donald Davie

19 August 1982
Swansongs 
by Sue Lenier.
Oleander Press, 80 pp., £7.50, April 1982, 9780906672044
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Collected Poems 
by Sylvia Plath, edited by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 351 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 571 10573 4
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Devotions 
by Clive Wilmer.
Carcanet, 63 pp., £3.25, June 1982, 0 85635 359 0
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... 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: Mourn no more for the flowers you have broken, Lies you have told and clouds stirred on my face Roused from my dark to the moons you have awoken, In this fair night your blackness keeps no place, When Winter holds her blue tongue to the trees Licking them white, they cry not at their death With tears like wings of flies washed in the breeze And blown away, each sad and lonely breath, And as each creature waits for Spring’s pale arms To rouse their sleep and tenderly lead them out, So I to you who did me all this harm Will wait, heart-full, to wake you with my shout  Of happiness, love and trembling sin –  As all the night goes out, the stars come in ...

Their Witness

Donald Davie

27 February 1992
The Poetry of Survival: Post-War Poets of Central and Eastern Europe 
edited by Daniel Weissbort.
Anvil, 384 pp., £19.95, January 1992, 0 85646 187 3
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... 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 ...

Boeotian Masters

Donald Davie

5 November 1992
The Paperbark Tree: Selected Prose 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 360 pp., £18.95, September 1992, 0 85635 976 9
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... 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 ...

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