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

The Reek of the Human Gerald Hammond

I WANT TO OFFER an appreciation of Donald Davie as a human critic. Not humane, although I certainly would not deny him that label, but, in a more complete way than any other critic I know, to hail him as a critic of human experience.

The book I shall choose is Articulate Energy, but I would like to begin with my own experience of a critical book of Davie's written more than a generation later. I was trying to write a lecture on the language of horse-racing for a general, non-academic audience. I had plenty of material but was looking for a way into the topic. At the same time I was reading Under Briggflatts and coin-cidentally came across a comparison of the poems of Edwin Muir and Austin Clarke. Nearly every chapter in this remarkable book struck me as having as much to offer as many other critics' whole books, but this one had a striking atpness too. Discussing Clarke's increasing anti-clericalism, Davie focuses on 'Forget Me Not', his poem about the horse-meat trade. Davie's discussion of it is a completely human piece. First he tackles and demolishes one critic's 'humanitarian' complaint that there are far worse things to get heated about than what happens to horses, and then he shows how Clarke's anti-clericalism is, ultimately, some kind of recognition that the poet's task is a religious one. Davie does this by responding to the poem's concern with form, with this statement the nub of the ...


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