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This review is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

POET-CRITICS Dick Davis, Wisdom and Wilderness: The Achievement of Yvor Winters (University of Georgia Press) $22.50

Despite a title which threatens a book of the standard 'homage' sort, full of praise and special pleading, Davis's main concern is not with evaluation at all; it is, as he puts it, 'to explicate what I take to be the most important preoccupations evident in [Winter's] published work.' Yet through Davis's explication comes a homage (at least as far as the poetry is concerned) that is the more profoundly convincing for being largely tacit.

It is a conspicuous peculiarity of Winters's poetic career that having begun in the 1920s as a free verse modernist he suddenly, with the sonnets of The Proof (1930), became a poet of traditional forms. The revolution in his attitudes is no less striking. To condense Davis's description of them, his early imagist poems evoke a natural world often virtually untouched by man; they show a minute sensitivity to 'extremely delicate, almost unnoticeable, natural phenomena and effects'; often they celebrate or seem to enact a trancelike, quasi-mystical absorption in nature. In sharp contrast to all this, of course, the later and more familiar Winters denounces romanticism and the 'mystical pantheism' he associates with Emerson; aggressively promulgates the values of reason; and himself writes a poetry increasingly stripped of sensuous particularity, focused - sometimes baldly - on rational and ethical reflection. Davis does not minimize the importance of this revolution in poetic style and intellectual stance - he hypothesizes a psychological crisis during Winters's early twenties, reflected 'perhaps metaphorically, perhaps directly' in Winters's ...


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