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This article is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

Donald Davie and Robert Graves Patrick McGuinness

In 1959, three years after appearing in Robert Conquest's New Lines anthology, Donald Davie made the first of a number of moves which set him at odds with the Movement whose principles he had helped to articulate. Reviewing Charles Tomlinson's Seeing is Believing, Donald Davie attacked

the silent conspiracy which now unites all the English poets from Robert Graves down to Philip Larkin, and all the critics, editors and publishers too, the conspiracy to pretend that Pound and Eliot never happened. Tomlinson refuses to put the clock back, to pretend that after Pound and Eliot, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens have written in English, the English poetic tradition remains unaffected.

Davie's startling association of Graves and Larkin suggests that, to him at least, the 'conspiracy' was founded on opposition to a common enemy, rather than on any intrinsic unity of purpose. The climate, it seemed, was one in which the author of The White Goddess and the author of The Whitsun Weddings were on the same side. Tomlinson, Davie goes on:

refuses to honour even the first rule of the club, by sheltering snugly under the skirts of 'the genius of language'; instead he appears to believe, as Pound and Eliot did before him, that a Valéry and a Mallarmé change the landscape of poetry in languages other than their own. No wonder he doesn't appeal to our Little Englanders.

Davie published this in Essays in Criticism ...


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