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This review is taken from PN Review 128, Volume 25 Number 6, July - August 1999.

CLEARANCES DONALD DAVIE, With the Grain: Essays On Thomas Hardy and Modern British Poetry, edited by Clive Wilmer (Carcanet) £14.95

In the concluding chapter of 'Thomas Hardy and British Poetry', now at the heart of With the Grain, Donald Davie categorises himself, along with Pound and Hardy, whatever their previous differences, as a 'rigidifier' by temperament: '... the devotee of the hard, the seeker after the certain and the unchanging'. This astutely-edited new gathering of essays and poems spans over forty years of Davie's utterances and we are able, in hindsight, to realise how powerful and paradoxical this urge was, and how it forced a restlessness in his hunt for models and forms that might make it realisable. The hunt is always principled and often brilliant: Davie's most stringent and angry reactions are often aimed at alternative or discarded versions of his own poetic self. His writing on Hardy's influence is often remembered or cited with his distancing from, and simultaneous objections to, the poetics of the Movement in mind. His humility has been misread as judgemental arrogance: it is, above all, ever-vigilant and awed in attitudes to language and his hopes of shaping something to endure from it, as well as a reaction against an 'evasive and defensive' irony in the poet's attitude to the universe and his readers. His disappointment with Larkin, Betjeman, Auden and others for limiting their sights is also manifestly an argument with a previous self, the Davie of the 1950s, of Augustan pastiche and the manifesto laid down in Purity of Diction in English Verse. This collection is representative of many other such ...


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