The title of To Scorch or Freeze vividly captures the work’s major theme. The modern world is caught between the scorching flames of self-centered desire and the freezing distance from the Divine Presence. Davie seeks to identify the roots of this destructive dichotomy. In “Standings,” for instance, he lashes out at the heterodoxy of William Blake. Davie excoriates political correctness in which the “Albion of William Blake” has become a “tesselation of ghettos.” No advocate of cultural diversity, he blasts the notion of “the white man’s truth/ then the black’s.”
The poem on the page facing “Standings” is “Church Militant,” a title borrowed from seventeenth century English Christian poet George Herbert. (The poems on the facing pages throughout To Scorch or Freeze comment on each other—reinforcing its dichotomous title.) Davie imagines God as celestial commander in chief, who despite the materialism of the modern age still manages to recruit Christian soldiers in his eternal army of the faithful.
While much of To Scorch or Freeze laments modern faithlessness, the jeremiad is broken by transcendent moments such as “David Dancing.” Here Davie contrasts the attempts of modern art and history to come to terms with the past with the image of David dancing before the Ark in a time outside time:
Neither to move nor consolehe dances, not in a dreambut exceptionally wakefulin a recurrent morning.
The dichotomy of “neither to move nor console” offers an answer to that of “To Scorch or Freeze.” David creates his poetry in a dancing union with God in a state not of befuddled mysticism but of articulate energy enacting the Word that it glorifies.