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This article is taken from PN Review 88, Volume 19 Number 2, November - December 1992.

Donald Davie, Sir waiter Scott, and 'The Romance of Scholarship' George Dekker

IN THE PREFACE to Trying to Explain, Donald Davie comments that 'if it seems that I talk about poetry more as. a professor than as a poet, I can only say that in my experience the two vocations come together'.1 Later in the same volume, in an interview with Dana Gioia, he explains that Purity of Diction in English Verse, while serving to advance his academic career, was chiefly a 'sort of concealed manifesto' on behalf of qualities he was aiming for in his early poetry (208). 'I would say that I wrote the criticism in order to explain to myself what I had been doing in the poems. I did not write the criticism to decide what I ought to do and what I wanted the poems to do' (209). On this showing the criticism is very much the handmaiden of the poetry, and no worse (possibly much better) for being so. But he acknowledges that most of his critical writings after Purity of Diction and Articulate Energy have no such covert function, and in another interview published in 1978 he remarks that 'criticism is for me a second-order activity. I am just not prepared to take as much time in polishing and adjusting the tone of a book review as I am of a poem. And this has always been the case' (31). Fair enough, we may think, and true of any poet who has his priorities right. And yet when we consider that Davie has published ...


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