Donald Davie (DAY-vee) was a highly respected man of many letters. In addition to his poetry, he published numerous works of literary theory and criticism, including important books on Ezra Pound and Thomas Hardy, and an abundance of material on various British, American, and European authors. He also wrote several cultural histories that discuss the impact of religious dissent on culture and literature and edited a number of anthologies of Augustan and Russian poetry; in addition, he published biographical essays and translated Russian poetry.
Donald Davie’s high reputation in the United States is apparent in the many awards and other academic appointments he received. He was the recipient of three awards in 1973—a Guggenheim Fellowship, an honorary fellowship at St. Catharine’s College in Cambridge, and a fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1978, he earned a doctorate in literature from the University of Southern California and was made an honorary fellow at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Dekker, George, ed. Donald Davie and the Responsibilities of Literature. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1983. Provides a good sampling of criticism on Davie.
Everett, Barbara. “Poetry and Christianity.” London Review of Books, February 4-18, 1982, 5-7. Everett stresses the reticence of Davie’s poetry. Davie avoids strong displays of emotion, enabling him to concentrate on stylistic effects. At his best, as in Three for Water-Music, his poetry is superlative. He strongly emphasizes the values of the English countryside and defends an ideal of Christian civilization that he regards as in decline. Many of his best effects are understated and tacit, although he often begins a poem with a sharp phrase.
Fowler, Alastair. A History of English Literature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987. Fowler relates Davie to the other Movement poets such as Robert Conquest and Philip Larkin. Davie’s poetry stresses local themes and avoids difficulty. The value of plain, strong syntax is rated very high by Davie, but less so, one gathers, by Fowler. Davie avoids foreign influences and adopts a no-nonsense attitude toward the problem of how poetry relates to the world. Fowler rates him below Larkin and appears to dislike the Movement poets.
Jacobs, Alan. “Donald Davie: 1922-1995.” American Scholar 66, no. 4 (Autumn, 1997): 579-585. In this piece written to mark Davie’s passing, Jacobs, a professor of English at Wheaton College, recalls a 1994 meeting with the poet. He describes him as having a contrarian temperament and discusses his poetry.
Kermode, Frank. An Appetite for Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. Kermode notes a paradoxical side to Davie’s poetry. Davie adopts the view that the genuine tradition of English poetry is one stressing local values. Thomas Hardy exemplifies the correct manner of writing poetry, and T. S. Eliot is regarded as aberrant. Davie considers his own work part of a counterrevolution against the modernism of Ezra Pound and Eliot. Nevertheless, his poetry displays the influence of both of those poets. Kermode contends that Davie is more cosmopolitan than Philip Larkin.
Leader, Zachary, ed. The Movement Reconsidered: Essays on Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie, and Their Contemporaries. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Contains essays on the members of the Movement, including Davie, Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin, and Kingsley Amis.
Powell, Neil. “Donald Davie, Dissentient Voice.” In British Poetry Since 1970: A Critical Survey, edited by Peter Jones, et al. London: Persea Books, 1980. Powell notes that much of Davie’s poetry is concerned with his English audience. His move to California indicates a disillusion with England, and Essex Poems, 1963-1967 suffers from an undue display of anger toward his former country. In some instances, for example, in the sequence In the Stopping Train, and Other Poems, Davie talks to himself. Often, the shifts between “I” and “he” are bewildering. At his best, Davie is forceful and clear.
Ricks, Christopher. “Davie’s Pound.” New Statesman 69, no. 1779 (April 16, 1965): 610. Provides insights into Davie’s admiration for Ezra Pound.
Rosenthal, M. L., and Sally McGall. The Modern Poetic Sequence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. The authors discuss in an illuminating way Davie’s display of emotion in his poetry. His mood is usually bleak and somber. Instead of adding lyrical meditations after his narrative, in the nineteenth century tradition, Davie emphasizes the subjective throughout his poems. A detailed discussion of “After the Accident,” an account of an automobile crash that nearly killed Davie and his wife, elucidates these points.
Wright, Stuart T., comp. Donald Davie: A Checklist of His Writings, 1946-1988. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. A comprehensive bibliography of Davie’s works.
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