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

THE PULSE OF HUMANITY DONALD DAVIE, With the Grain: Essays on Thomas Hardy and Modern British Poetry, edited by Clive Wilmer (Carcanet) £14.95

For anyone concerned about poetry, Donald Davie was for forty years a commanding presence in Anglo-American letters. From the time of his first book, Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952), until his death in 1995, Davie was highly respected in academic circles throughout the Englishspeaking world. In addition to a characteristically impassioned, yet restrained, autobiographical memoir, These the Companions, Davie published ten booklength works of criticism, on subjects covering English, American and Russian literature. As a critic, he was best known, perhaps, for his championship of Ezra Pound and for a prodigious output of literary journalism, some of which (including one essay in the book under review) first appeared in The Guardian. This indefatigable career took Davie to university appointments in Dublin, Cambridge, Stanford and Tennessee. Meanwhile, he produced the eighteen books of poetry which he thought of as his finest literary achievement.

Davie resembles Eliot, Auden and Pound in that his authority as a critic is inseparable from his vocation as a poet. It was Davie's lifelong preoccupation with the writing of poems, and with the cultural conditions conducive to writing them, which gave his criticism an impassioned intensity rarely equalled in our time. Hence Clive Wilmer's claim, at the close of his introduction, that Davie is 'the indispensable thinker about poetry of the later twentieth century'.

With the Grain proves Davie's rare distinction as a poet-critic. It incorporates one whole book (Thomas Hardy and British Poetry), 26 essays, mostly on modern British ...


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