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

Hearing Davie Gareth Reeves

SITTING IN NASHVILLE, Tennessee, about as far from the place of Donald Davie's upbringing in the West Riding as the Colonial American poet Edward Taylor, minister to the frontier settlement of Westfield, Massachusetts, had been from his in Leicestershire, Davie wrote the following poem:
 
Having no ear, I hear
And do not hear the piano-tuner ping,
Ping, ping one string beneath me here, where I
Ping-ping one string of Caroline English to
Tell if Edward Taylor tells
The truth, or no.

Dear God, such gratitude
As I owe thee for giving, in default
Of a true ear or of true holiness,
This trained and special gift of knowing when
Religious poets speak themselves to God,
And when, to men.

The preternatural! I know it when
This perfect stranger - angel-artisan -
Knows how to edge our English Upright through
Approximations back to rectitude,
Wooing it back through quarter-tone
On quarter-tone, to true.

Mystical? I abjure the word, for if
Such faculty is known and recognized
As may tell sharp from flat, and both from true,
And I lack that capacity, why should I
Think Paradise by other light than day
Sparkled in Taylor's eye?


'Having No Ear' is a wittily skilful poem, not least in its sound effects. The wit is of the sort that is ...


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