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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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Endearingness

Donald Davie, 21 March 1991

The Oxford Book of Essays 
edited by John Gross.
Oxford, 680 pp., £17.95, February 1991, 0 19 214185 6
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... 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 ...

Hearing about Damnation

Donald Davie, 3 December 1981

Collected Poems 
by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 262 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 19 211941 9
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... 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. Twenty-four years ago, reviewing Enright’s Bread Rather than Blossoms (for all practical purposes his second collection – leaving aside, that is, his 1948 Season Ticket, published in Alexandria), I exhorted him to remember ‘the deeper reaches (and so the deeper humanity) of the art he practises ...

Retrospective

Donald Davie, 2 February 1984

A World of Difference 
by Norman MacCaig.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.95, June 1983, 0 7011 2693 0
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... 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 ...

Fallen Language

Donald Davie, 21 June 1984

The Lords of Limit: Essays on Literature and Ideas 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Deutsch, 203 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 233 97581 0
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... 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 ...

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