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This review is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

THE PRACTICE OF SEVERITY Donald Davie, Collected Poems 1971-1983 (Carcanet/MidNAG) £5.95 pb.
Donald Davie and the Responsibilities of Literature, edited by George Dekker (Carcanet) £9.95

Donald Davie once referred to the 'radiant paradox' of Pushkin's vulnerable frankness as a person and his impregnable reserve as an artist. The phrase keeps coming to mind in reading Davie's new Collected Poems. His criticism is frankly personal, disputative, tendentious; his poetry oblique, glancing, reticent. The Collected Poems 1950-1970 was remarkable for its range of achievement, revealing a poetic imagination catholic but not eclectic, resisting the winds of fashion but always alert to new procedures in its search for a style capable of expressing not a personality, but the creative possibilities of the medium itself. Davie's recent poetry shows the same vibrant restraint: his themes are urgently public and private; his style austere and impersonal. The Shires (1974) confused critics, who were for the most part offended by what seemed the mechanical exercise of versifying each county. Mechanical these poems are not; they freely mingle fragmentary memories, associations, stylistic juxtapositions, so that the poems rest within the matrix of the myriad experiences which prompted them. This free-flowing method is not new in Davie's poetry and it does not make for easy reading, but it may have been the only way for him, the voluntary expatriate, to write about his beloved and faithless England. The poems are poignant, nostalgic, sometimes bitter and rancorous, but not in a 'confessional' way; emotions are felt all the more keenly through the personal reticence. Three for Water-Music (1981), which in its method of composition owes something to Eliot's Four Quartets, similarly uses allusions, ...

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