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

'As Wallpaper Peels from a Wall' Peter Robinson

OUR INFLUENCES are like parents: we don't exactly choose them and often only come to recognize the truth of the affinity after many years. No doubt there is burden and anxiety, especially when we seem to have let them down, but also an ineradicable fondness, even when it is they who seem to have let us down. It is to Robert Wells that I owe, initially, Donald Davie; in the spring of 1972 he encouraged me to attend the lecture 'Eliot in One Poet's Life' and to stay on for the poetry reading. Yeats's remarking that 'We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry' dents an idea for a phrase's sake. The others with whom we quarrel are too much parts of ourselves. This may helpfully be remembered when reading Davie's polemics or considering his distinctions. The issues addressed are usually substantial and urgent, but they are rarely considered independently of the self addressing them; and, needless to say, those others on the receiving end of Davie's quarrels at least in part with himself may often have every right to feel indignant or exasperated, hurt, or all three. Nevertheless, self-contradictory divisions in Davie have contributed to the insightful excitements of his criticism, deriving as they so often do from his arguing and judging with alternatives: Symbolist or Augustan, carver or modeler, free or metred verse … Yet even when such distinctions are conceptually plausible, it is only too possible for poets, ...


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