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This article is taken from PN Review 7, Volume 5 Number 3, April - June 1979.

The Poetry of Yvor Winters Donald Davie

THE FUNDAMENTAL distinction among English-language poets-the one of the coarsest mesh, but the one that the working poet daily lives with and operates by-is not the distinction between Romantic and Classicist, between rationalist and irrationalist, between a strict kind of formalist and the loose or 'organic' kind. The fundamental, the radical split is between those who think that a poem is a considered utterance, and those who think it is unconsidered.

Nobody, one might think, has ever seriously advanced a theory of poetry as unconsidered utterance. But on the contrary such a position has been, and is, defended repeatedly. And the defences available range from some that are self-evidently fatuous to others that are sophisticated and superficially plausible. Among the more sophisticated, for instance, are those theories that start from the proposition that over by far the greater range of his daily activities modern man is required to be all too 'considering', that at every point man and woman in our technologically advanced societies are required to calculate, to anticipate consequences, to reckon up the odds. This necessity (so the argument develops) thwarts and chokes our capacities for spontaneous behaviour, so that for instance even our sexual behaviour becomes calculated, all too monstrously `considered'. On this showing poetry has a duty to be 'unconsidered', at least in some respects and to some notable degree, because only by being so can it discharge its therapeutic and social duty to defend such threatened areas of experience as our sexuality. ...


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