Donald (Alfred) Davie 1922–
English poet, critic, editor, and translator.
Davie is well respected for both his creative and his critical contributions to contemporary literature. His belief that the poet "is responsible to the community in which he writes for purifying and correcting the spoken language" is evidenced by the classical formalism of his first volume of poetry, The Brides of Reason (1955), and is the focus of his first critical work, The Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952). In The Purity of Diction, Davie argues for a return to the prose-like syntax, formal structures, and conservative metaphors of the eighteenth-century Augustan poets. In the 1950s Davie was associated with the Movement, a group of poets including Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, and Thom Gunn who believed in the importance of these qualities. In contrast to English poets of the 1940s who were influenced by imagism and symbolism, the Movement poets emphasized restrained language, traditional syntax, and the moral and social implications of poetic content.
Davie has described himself as a poet for whom intellectual concerns take precedence over expressions of sensual experience. Some critics, however, note a sensuous attraction to nature in several poems in A Winter Talent and Other Poems (1957) which becomes more pronounced and deliberate in Events and Wisdoms (1964). Certain critics also assert that many of Davie's most successful poems are suffused with a sense of place and a sense of history associated with place. The most prominent example of this is The Shires (1974), a collection composed of forty poems, one for each county in England, in which Davie contemplates the past, present, and future of his native country. Davie's critical interest in other poets often affects his own poetic style. He translated Boris Pasternak's The Poems of Dr. Zhivago (1965) and has written critical works on Pasternak, Ezra Pound, and Thomas Hardy. Davie's reviewers attribute his experimental use of metaphor, symbolism, and loosely-structured verse forms to the influence of these poets.
Disillusioned with what he saw as a declining English culture, and feeling himself alienated from English academics who emphasized the separateness of poetry and criticism, Davie moved to the United States in the late 1960s. Many of his poems deal with his ambivalent feelings toward England. Several poems from In the Stopping Train (1977) illuminate this tension as Davie attempts to come to terms with the England of his childhood and the England of today. Reviewing this collection, Michael Collins describes Davie's writing as "quiet, restrained, erudite, carefully-wrought—a poetry of statement rather than of image.".
Davie's critical works are as highly regarded as his poetry. In Articulating Energy (1955), a continuation of the arguments formulated in The Purity of Diction, Davie continues to stress the need for reason and clarity in literature. In two full-length works, Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor (1964) and Ezra Pound (1976), and in several essays in the collection Trying to Explain (1979), he analyzes the poetry of Ezra Pound. These works are praised for being provocative, insightful, and well-in-formed. In two other scholarly books, A Gathered Church: The Literature of the English Dissenting Interest, 1700–1930 (1978) and Dissentient Voice (1982), Davie traces the cultural and literary implications of religious dissent.
Davie has recently published Collected Poems, 1970–1983 (1983) and a volume of personal recollections entitled These the Companions (1982). These the Companions deals mainly with the people and places that have had the greatest effect on Davie and his work. Collected Poems includes previously published poems as well as a new sequence, The Battered Wife and Other Poems. The volume displays the directness and aesthetic control for which Davie has been commended throughout his career.
(See also CLC, Vols. 5, 8, 10; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 27.)