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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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... as a distinct category, where moral judgments were, or might have to be, suspended. This poem as I read it records Enright’s encounter with the furious energies of a great artist, an encounter which compels him, at least for the moment, to abandon that reassuring Leavisite conviction. Indeed he not only encounters Hokusai, he is sucked into Hokusai’s ...


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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... is what we want to inspire, this psalm is very inspiring indeed. Milton for one obviously read these verses with relish when, on 14 August 1653, he put them into metre: God is a just god and severe, And God is every day offended; If the unjust will not forbear, His sword he whets, his bow hath bended Already, and for him intended The tools of death ...


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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... he/she gets prompter acceptance and payment for a review than for a poem or a story. We have all read about how the essay is itself an honourable genre (obeisances to Michel de Montaigne), and most of us by now know that there is no fixed frontier between literature and journalism: all the same, some writing is designedly ephemeral whereas some isn’t, and ...

What’s in a Number?

Donald MacKenzie: The $300 Trillion Question, 25 September 2008

... clusters of brokers’ desks, and you can occasionally see a broker using binoculars to read a distant whiteboard or screen – but a more crucial skill is ‘broker’s ear’: the capacity to monitor what is being said by all the other brokers at nearby desks, despite the noise and while at the same time holding a voicebox conversation with a ...

Forms and Inspirations

Vikram Seth, 29 September 1988

... lovestruck at University. They were in very free measures, and, indeed, very free syntax. I had read enough modern poetry by then to convince myself that rhyme and metre were passé, and that, anyway, the fierce and miserable beating of my heart was not to be contained by what Frost, I believe, called, with seeming disparagement, ‘rhymey-dimey ...


Donald Davie, 7 March 1985

The Letters of Hugh MacDiarmid 
edited by Alan Bold.
Hamish Hamilton, 910 pp., £20, August 1984, 0 241 11220 6
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Between Moon and Moon: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1946-1972 
edited by Paul O’Prey.
Hutchinson, 323 pp., £14.95, November 1984, 9780091557508
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... a little about some of the great figures in literature during their school years, but they do not read them afterwards. What they do read is for the most part beneath contempt ...   All the great things in the arts and in the sciences have been the creation, very often ‘against the current’ (i.e. in the teeth not ...

Pound and the Perfect Lady

Donald Davie, 19 September 1985

Pound’s Artists: Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts in London, Paris and Italy 
by Richard Humphreys.
Tate Gallery, 176 pp., £12.95, June 1985, 0 946590 28 1
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Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters 1909-1914 
edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz.
Faber, 399 pp., £25, January 1985, 0 571 13480 7
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... 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 ...

Fit and Few

Donald Davie, 3 May 1984

The Making of the Reader: Language and Subjectivity in Modern American, English and Irish Poetry 
by David Trotter.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 333 30632 5
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... 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 ...

What I Heard about Iraq

Eliot Weinberger: Watch and listen, 3 February 2005

... forces have not been rebuilt.’ On 11 September 2001, six hours after the attacks, I heard that Donald Rumsfeld said that it might be an opportunity to ‘hit’ Iraq. I heard that he said: ‘Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.’ I heard that Condoleezza Rice asked: ‘How do you capitalise on these opportunities?’ I heard that on 17 ...

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 ...

How to Read the Trump Dossier

Arthur Snell, 5 January 2017

... that came to light last week – when a dossier of intelligence reports surfaced online alleging Donald Trump’s eccentric sexual exploits, a long-running conspiracy between Trump and the Russian regime, and inappropriate financial deals over sanctions against Russian companies – read like the plot of a spy novel. None ...

Where mine is at

Gordon Burn, 28 May 1992

Outerbridge Reach 
by Robert Stone.
Deutsch, 409 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 223 98774 3
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... adventurer searching out the furthermost reaches of life. But to anybody familiar with the case of Donald Crowhurst and, more particularly, with The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, published in 1970, Stone’s book raises increasingly uncomfortable questions about when fair use of ...

A Short History of the Trump Family

Sidney Blumenthal: The First Family, 16 February 2017

... The​ most enduring blight left behind by Donald Trump, long after he has smashed things up, will be the pile of books devoted to trying to make sense of him. It will grow after investigative journalists have spent years diving for hidden records, exploring subterranean corporations and foreign partners but never reaching the dark ocean bottom ...


Donald Rayfield, 19 July 1984

Dostoevsky. Vol II: The Years of Ordeal 1850-1859 
by Joseph Frank.
Robson, 320 pp., £14.95, April 1984, 0 86051 242 8
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The Village of Stepanchikovo 
by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ignat Avsey.
Angel, 255 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 946162 06 9
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... the apparently hopeless failure of the exiled, isolated Dostoevsky to find what people would now read and what his contacts would now publish. That they went largely ignored in his lifetime is understandable: that they were published at all during the flowering of a whole new generation of novelists says much about the generosity of the Russian ...

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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... clear, the Scots, Irish and Welsh. This means that when he speaks of the British Empire, we should read ‘English’. His own Murray forebears, being however far back Gaelic-speaking Scots, are largely if not entirely exempt from blame for what has happened to the Aborigines. (These latter, of course, are the black allies he speaks of, tenderly, always and ...

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