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

Davie's lines and Nature Martin Dodsworth

IN HIS Collected Poems 1950-1970 Donald Davie goes out of his way to tell the reader that he is 'not a poet by nature, only by inclination'. This might be off-putting but it is only an instance of something any admirer will recognize as characteristic of him, a determination not to gloss over any unpleasantness. Difficult issues exist to be confronted, however baffling they may be:

With the Grain. The poem is obscure. Completed on 24 July 1957, it appears to be related to a note written three days before. Though this is a vulnerable piece of writing, I transcribe it here:

'It is true that I am not a poet by nature, only by inclination …'


The note is almost two pages long, by far the longest in the book; what is striking about it is that it is presented as if it were under compulsion. It only seems to be related to the poem it glosses, and it is vulnerable, both good reasons for not printing it, but nevertheless it is there in print, and why is not quite clear. There is a possible analogy between the obscurity of 'With the Grain' and the obscurity of Davie's motives in offering his note. Both have to do with the obscure business of writing poetry in which connections and motives are not by any means consistently clear. This obscurity is a saving grace where the matter of being a poet by nature is ...


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