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This article is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

In Loving Disagreement: Donald Davie Terry Witek

Donald Davie wrote the first book of literary theory I ever read. This slender volume had been passed along by one of his more advanced grad students when I was desperate to find words for what I cared about at that particular moment: how Thomas Hardy uses short poetic forms like the triolet as miniature factories of meaning. Though I didn't know anything about the critics Davie had summoned into his book mostly to refute, I was immediately caught up in sentences like these: 'Thus, if all poems are born as rhythms, then some, it seems, may be born as rhythms of ideas, that is, as patterns of syntax rather than patterns of sound. And this would make of syntax the very nerve of poetry' (Articulate Energy, p. 32).

Clearly hewn prose that, in gymnastic terms, really sticks its landing, and the firmness of tone as he extends some idea he can't quite countenance, is pure Dr Davie. And while we may not have been conversant with T.E. Hulme, say, or with Susanne Langer, Davie's students certainly knew how it felt to be their syntactic equivalents as class after class pulled his leisurely, sustained arguments into enough junctions and crossroads that even the most inexperienced among us settled in for one of the most exhilarating literary rides of our lives.

Of the many classes I took from Dr Davie - and these included a Yeats seminar, a Pound seminar (which was held ...


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