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This review is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

BACK TO BASICS DONALD DAVIE, Purity of Diction in English Verse and Articulate Energy (Carcanet) £12.95

Much of Donald Davie's critical writing has the growl of righteousness about it. His Nonconformist background meant that the dissentient voice became an unassailable part of his critical armoury. Writing after Davie's death in 1995, Michael Wood saw the grammar school boy from Barnsley as 'the Empson or the Eliot of his generation' and Michael Schmidt described him as 'the defining poet-critic' of his age.

Davie the poet was actually quite different from Davie the critic. Though poetry always remained his 'true Penelope' he eschewed the bardic and the mythological and almost willed the role of poet upon himself, admitting, with uncharacteristic self-effacement, that he was not 'a poet by nature, only by inclination', having 'little appetite, only profound admiration, for sensuous fullness and immediacy'. As a critic Davie was a 'close reader' in the old style who circled with deliberation around his subject like a buzzard. It affords a strange pleasure watching him swoop from the air. There's often a little blood on the page or at least some semblance of surgery. Questions of style were, for Davie, questions of morality and that pervasive sense of rectitude has a quasi-Leavisite as well as an Old Testament feel to it. As a critic Davie not infrequently allowed himself to change his mind in what appeared to be an evolving process of creative vacillation.

Davie's introduction to the 1992 re-gathering of Purity of Diction (1952) and Articulate Energy (1955) - ...


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