Donald Alfred Davie was born July 17, 1922, into a lower-middle-class Baptist family, the son of a shopkeeper and the grandson of domestic servants. He grew up amid the slag heaps of industrial West Riding. His mother frequently recited poetry, and, according to Davie, “Robin Hood . . . surely did more than any other single text to make me a compulsive reader for ever after.” His father, a lively and emotionally expressive man, encouraged the young boy to take piano lessons. Even as a child, however, Davie rankled at the pretensions and philistinism of his more well-to-do neighbors.
In 1940, Davie began his studies of seventeenth century religious oratory and architecture at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. He joined the Royal Navy in 1941 and between 1942 and 1943 was stationed in northern Russia, where he studied the poetry of Boris Pasternak, who was to become an important and lasting influence. He married Doreen John, from Plymouth, in 1945; they had three children. Davie returned to Cambridge in 1946 and studied under F. R. Leavis; he earned his B.A. in 1946, his M.A. in 1949, and his Ph.D. in 1951. Between 1950 and 1957, he taught at Trinity College, Dublin, where he met the writers and poets Joseph Hone, Austin Clarke, and Padraic Fallon. He spent 1957-1958 as visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was introduced to Yvor Winters, Thom Gunn, and Hugh Kenner (whose teaching post he actually filled for the...
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