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This report is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

Vestiges (16)
Donald Davie
Adam Crothers
As PN Review’s editor leaves Cambridge and the vestiges of St John’s College behind, this series closes on a former editor, the late Donald Davie. When Guy Lee, as Librarian, set about building a collection of contemporary poetry manuscripts – a letter to Lee from Larkin featured in PNR 215 – Davie was among his respondents, and sent a number of worksheets, among them drafts of ‘Under St Paul’s’.

The longhand drafts date from late November and early December 1956: the pictured effort, from 2 December, is the last to go without a title, although the underlined date at its head invokes some of the weight of Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’. This page gives the poem’s second and third stanzas in respectively late and early stages. Little edits to the second show the poem pulling away from prosaic expectations. ‘Smells’ that boringly ‘rise’ are made instead, briefly and ludicrously, to ‘echo’, before ‘trickle’ is settled upon as the more accurate innovation; the small change in the first sentence, where ‘or’ becomes ‘and’, makes a large difference to the poem’s metaphysics – the ‘whiter wing, Anger’ is now as real as the gull-scream, not an illusion conjured by it in collaboration with a poet.

Although the draft bears decreasing relation to the finished piece in its specific phrasing, a version of the argument is indisputably being developed through these lines. The ‘tides of Sex’, for instance, would become ‘the tides of love’. And while ‘Go on into the dark!’ – they all do, says Eliot in ‘East Coker’, but the phrase appears more exactly in Golding’s then-recent The Lord of the Flies – has no parallel in the final publication, Davie still offers resistance to that implicit demand, retaining some sense that

                                         The air
Where gulls and pigeons couple as they  fly
Is not in the dark.


Copy Isolated

This report is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this report to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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