Davidson, Donald (Vol. 13)
Davidson, Donald 1893–1968
Davidson was an American poet, critic, historian, and rhetorician. One of the original founders of the Fugitive school of poetry, Davidson created a verse marked by an uncompromising loyalty to the precepts of the Southern Agrarian movement. He explicated his artistic vision in poetry whose syntax and diction is drawn from the classical and biblical tradition. Of focal concern for Davidson are the problems of religion, tradition, and the fundamental integrity of man in the modern world. (See also CLC, Vol. 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)
Richmond C. Beatty
The works of Mr. Davidson are of a piece and evoke a problem in every instance—the problem of belief. A man extremely fertile in ideas, he is rare among Southern authors in having been able to contemplate experience from a settled and definable point of view; he has kept his sensibility undissociated in this, perhaps the most distracted of all eras since the collapse of the Roman Empire. He has achieved this success at the cost of many repudiations, for value after value which the society of our own time has come to esteem or despairingly to accept he has submitted to searching examination. Always the examination has been made in the light of an attitude that is traditional to the author, who might be characterized as a highly intelligent and gifted Southerner, one who knows and cherishes his personal and cultural past, his country's history, and the intentions of the men who established its constitution. (p. 13)
[Lee in the Mountains and Other Poems] remains, nonetheless, by long odds his most ambitious work, one which reflects the effort of a contemporary mind to integrate itself with its own personal past and with the past of the early Tennessee settlers, the tall men. In addition, it is a commentary on the present, in terms of the past, rendered by turns autobiographically, dramatically, and lyrically. The poem is also in certain passages satiric, and the validity of its strictures on the artistic generation that...
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John Crowe Ransom
Of all the Fugitive poets who were writing and publishing verse from Nashville forty years ago, it is Donald Davidson who seems to have maintained continuity and development most steadily in his art…. It is Davidson who is most loyal to the old Southern way of life to which four of them [Tate, Ransom, Warren, and Davidson] gave allegiance in their Agrarian phase. His devotion is uncompromising; it is dangerously close to exclusive….
The title of Davidson's book [The Long Street] seems to be a key phrase to denote the culture which he is fighting. The Long Street is his image of the Southern industrial development, which was not stayed by the Agrarian agitation. (p. 202)
Other fine poems here are available for the critic's notice. But at least two are of extraordinary originality. They are fantasies, and it will be to the reader's advantage to explore and ponder them for himself. One is in this second section, entitled "Old Sailor's Choice": the narrator suddenly becomes Ulysses, telling an up-to-date Circe how he ran the twinned and monstrous dangers of Scylla and Charybdis; the lines the poet has given him are of an English colloquial and racy like Homer's Greek. The other poem is "The Case of Motorman 17," which constitutes Section IV. The motorman's family name is Brown, but the Christian name is Orestes. Does that signify anything? Here too there is a felicity of language, this time based on the jargon...
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What Mr. Davidson may want to restore, or not restore, or to destroy or create, is not the issue raised by a reading of [The Long Street]. What, in his poems, he is concerned with is the opposition of an heroic myth to the secularization of man in our age. Looked at from this point of view, his poetry is no more concerned with the restoration of the Old South than the Aeneid is with the restoration of Troy…. There is not one poem in the book to which I cannot give entire assent; I should merely like to see more to assent to. These poems say something important about man in our time, even though they may be about a country fiddler or Mr. Davidson's patronymic ancestor, or about the mystery of time and motion in "At the Station." The gaze is into the past but the glance is at the present, and this glance is sharp and exact. (pp. 671-72)
[Mr. Davidson] is one of the best classical scholars I know; not a philologist, but a lover of literae humaniores. His life-long reading of the Latin and Greek classics is more and more reflected in the simplicity and elegance of his diction, and in the unobtrusive formalism of his versification. The Long Street is one of the most impressive collections of American poetry since the first World War. It is all the more remarkable for its appearance late in Donald Davidson's career. To bring one's affection and admiration together, so that these emotions, rare even in isolation,...
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M. E. Bradford
[Davidson's] poetic achievement has been continuous and considerable. Indeed it can reasonably be argued on the basis of his … collection of verse (1961), The Long Street (Davidson's favorite metaphor for his imaginative experience of life in this century), that his finest, most impressive poetry is coming at the end of his career; and what distinguishes and gives especial value to these productions of his artistic maturity is precisely what has set him off from his poetic contemporaries since the Fugitive days and the first publication of The Tall Men (1927)—a preference for and personal possession of a traditional idiom and sense of the metaphorical potential of the familiar. These he has drawn from the main streams of our Western cultural heritage, from Scripture, classics, and (as Louise Cowan has well described it) "a sacramental view of nature." That he seriously means this idiom and these metaphors gives to him what now fashionable critics might prefer to speak of as "a command of archetypes"—and (among the poets of this century) an almost unique relationship to his chosen role. (pp. 516-17)
An urgent concern for and anticipation of "the decline of the West" and the obliviousness with which we approach this dissolution Davidson has in common with a great many modern poets. We think immediately of his fellow Fugitive, Allen Tate; of Yeats ("The Second Coming" especially); of Auden, Eliot, and Pound. We...
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THOMAS DANIEL YOUNG and M. THOMAS INGE
Davidson's first poems were about lovers and dragons, tigers and tiger-women. This choice of subject may reveal the poet's inclination to avoid some of the unpleasant aspects of the materialistic world in which he lived and to escape into an imaginative realm where lovers, singers, and others of acute sensibilities could be shielded from the harsh realities of an unsympathetic society. (pp. 42-3)
"The Valley of the Dragon" … is typical. Filled with images of "colored flies on honeyed errands," "golden sunsets," "silver moons," "thatch so kind … against the cold and rain," and "Love's low breathing," it is a romantic tale of an idyllic love that flourished in a land where the lovers are shielded "from the serpent-thoughts of men."…
The Tiger poems follow the same pattern. (p. 43)
In these poems the poet's dissatisfaction with his predicament is evident, as is his desire to escape the restrictions of a materialistic world to find fulfillment in love and nature. "The curse, the hope, the beauty" can be found only outside the patterns of "civilized" living. (p. 44)
In addition to a crude kind of lyric symbolism, these first poems are seminal in that they introduce a basic theme found in much of the later poetry: a profound sense of loss in the modern world. The method, however changes: the approach becomes more direct and expository; the style, less lyrical; the rhythm, less...
(The entire section is 3657 words.)