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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse, ed. Donald Davie (Oxford) £7.95

A good anthology ought to provoke surprise, and that at two levels: it ought to surprise and delight as it reveals lacunae in one's own reading, and it ought to surprise and lead to reflection as it queries what one might call the 'shape' of one's reading. Both kinds of surprise are, of course, subjective reactions on the part of the reader, but if the former kind is most nearly merely subjective, the latter is more likely to be a challenge to the accepted idea of what, in this case, 'Christian verse' is. Measured against such criteria, this new Oxford anthology is remarkably successful: there are plenty of individual delights, and the historical 'shape' of English Christian verse is made out to be rather different from what one might have expected. Among the individual delights let me record Mary Herbert's vigorous and elegant paraphrases of the psalms from the Sidney Psalter, Edward Taylor, and John Brooks Wheelwright's astonishingly successful essay of a 'high style' in his 'Forty Days'. But the historical shape suggested by Donald Davie surprises too. The seventeenth century is the best represented, naturally enough, but the eighteenth century-the century of Voltaire and Hume, and also of Eliot's 'dissociation of sensibility'-scarcely less so. Here Davie draws on a deep vein of Christian verse, the verse of Watts and Wesley and Cowper, and also the elegant moral reflection of Christopher Smart, reminding one curiously of Hume on the one hand and Jane Austen on the other (though representation ...

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