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

The Poet-Critic Christopher Ricks

ONE OF THE robust things about the tribute that Eliot paid to Tennyson was its kicking off so roundly and so squarely: 'Tennyson is a great poet for reasons that are perfectly clear. He has three qualities which are seldom found together except in the greatest poets: abundance, variety, and complete competence'.

Thew and sinew as well as head and shoulders above anybody else from the post-Eliot and post-Empson generations, Davie is the best of our poet-critics for reasons that are perfectly clear. His art, under both aspects, is characterized by abundance, variety, and complete competence - and no more than Tennyson would he sniff at competence as damnably faint praise. There is scarcely a kind of poem where he has not ventured and won, either in his own behalf or in that of those his companions, past and present. If in praising Milosz he was impelled to remark 'the insufficiency of lyric', his words were made good not only by their own range of cogencies, and not only by his making so clear that insufficiency means just that, and is not an evasive distaste, but by his accomplishments as a poet within lyric itself. His conviction (with Davie a conviction always entails the prompt duty of seeking to convince) was that we must learn again to set limits to our hopes of lyric, lyric, like any other kind and indeed like any other human enterprise, thriving only within limits. Among the things which constituted this as ...


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