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

Brilliance and Res John Peck

THE SELF-FLAYING which Donald Davie has found to be part of his vocation (Thomas Merton once put it in a similar way) has led, in To Scorch or Freeze, to an examination of conscience which at the same time probes at inherited religious language. Often single words bear the whole pressure, and the weight may fall on current as well as scriptural idiom, as with the tag 'no sweat'. The procedure is closely sequential, with loop stitches from one poem to the next, while the prose virtues of argument get stretched by rapid shifts of register, brief dialogue, and great speed of association. The aim seems to be to imitate the dartings and penetrations of reflection. Davie has contended that a mimetic view of writing cannot be set aside. Certainly that view serves here in spite of frequent textual play. The closing evocation of unearthly harmonies in 'Nashville Mornings', poising Saint Cecilia against Elvis tourism and probing questions, moves the practice to a high pitch. Rapid images, citations, and the ongoing probe move through each other so as to flex the uneasy mind, and the gossamer res itself, simultaneously. This dramatizes the prose virtues, for the mimesis aims at both the divine's elusive paradoxes and the sensibility which worriedly circles them.

One allusion in that poem is to Pound's late lines on Metastasio and the gods, in Canto CXIII. The following poem, 'Brilliance', seems to quote Pound at the start, from Canto III ('Gods float in the ...

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