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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.

TECHNIQUE Donald Davie, Three for Water-Music (Carcanet) £2.95

Technique is part of a poet's integrity. Donald Davie is a technician and should be given his due. His control over rhythm and diction has created a chaste-even a chastened-poetry. Still, the proposition holds. It certainly applies to a consideration of The Shires, reprinted with the fluently executed sequence 'Three for Water-Music'.

The forty poems which make up The Shires are technically distinguished, generally harmonizing descriptive passages, memories, literary illustrations. 'Surrey' shows the method at its most severe. A quotation from Betjeman's 'Pot Pourri from a Surrey Garden' contrasts with one from Collins's 'Ode on the Death of Thomson'. Davie's interpretation of their tones is the poem's transition. This method, which after refining becomes that of 'Three for Water-Music', creates sombre, amusing, ambiguous studies, a civilized and not pedantic poetry.

Metamorphosis is the theme of Davie's major new sequence 'Three for Water-Music'. Heroic couplets are disturbed and free-verse lines are disciplined as the work progresses: concord becomes discordant and discord becomes concordant. Technical transformations are reverberations of the subject. Davie's modulations also keep this in mind and connect the parts of the trio.

'The Fountain of Cyanë' begins with reference to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book 5, and flows into passages which are based on translations by Dryden and his contemporaries. The translational element suggests conversion. Drifting into Milton, in the second poem of part one, circles and shifts the poetry:


  . . . Was this
Where Pluto's chariot hurtled ...


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