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This article is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

From the Marches of Christendom: Mandelstam & Milosz Donald Davie

In my youth it was not uncommon for teachers of literature to link Poetry with Christianity. Basil Willey and T.R. Henn were two Cambridge professors of English who tried, from time to time, to establish a relationship between the reading of poetry and the profession of Christian faith, or at least the observances of Christian worship. Since their day such attempts seem to have been largely, though never altogether, discontinued. I can understand why. When I was young I too had been led to think (never mind where or how) that ecclesiastical authority, however suavely tempered by a Basil Willey or Tom Henn, was to be distrusted and resisted. Only lately have I been brought to think that this old issue should be dusted off and looked at again. Modern Britain is more multicultural and multireligious than Willey or Henn could have envisaged; but that makes their hesitant speculations not less but more apposite - for ecclesiastical authority is more than ever a burning issue when we have to take account of more than the one ecclesia. And in any case I seek to air the issues afresh not for the sake of the Church or the Faith, but for the sake of poetry, which I take to be in a parlous state that calls out for remedy.

What presses itself on my attention isn't ethical principles nor worshipful practice but doctrine, Christian doctrine. And this too, I now see, was foreshadowed in my not sufficiently impressionable ...

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