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This review is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

BINOCULAR VISION Donald Davie, Czeslaw Milosz and the Insufficiency of Lyric (CUP) £15.00

This challenging book, based on the John C. Hodges Lectures of 1984 at the University of Tennessee, is modest in its claims and bold in its conclusions. Modest for two reasons: Donald Davie, although he has helped considerably to make Mickiewicz' Pan Tadeusz accessible to the English-reading public, admits that he has no command of Polish and so must approach the 'Polish artistic forebears' of Milosz through 'what are self-evidently clumsy and misleading translations'. Yet Mandelstam said that only by establishing 'the literary genesis of a poet . . . his kinship and origins' can we arrive at firm ground under our feet in criticism. And the problem was further complicated for Davie by incompleteness of the biographical record, and also by the appearance, when his assessment had been made, of a newly translated work The Land of Ulro. This he was relieved to find had nothing that 'positively controverts' his conclusions. So the book is offered as only 'a first preliminary "fix" on a writer and thinker' who, after living among English-speakers for a quarter of a century, should receive rather more than a 'bemused deference'. Davie's own exploration of Milosz' poetry has compelled him to 're-think the nature of poetic discourse'. Thus the value of this study is twofold: it delineates a profile of Milosz with many acute and sympathetic touches, and, as we should expect from Davie, it drives us back to first principles.

He is particularly good in demonstrating the emergence of Milosz ...


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