Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Donald Davie is a well-traveled and well-respected poet, literary critic, and academic. His life has centered on words, the makers of words, and those places where works of the imagination are valued. In this autobiography he remembers some of those words, those makers, and those places. Davie realizes that many people do not share his love of words and the imagination, and that others will not think his life particularly enlightening on these things. Yet his sense of responsibility to record a perhaps disappearing notion of literary culture triumphed over the paralyzing “Who cares?”—and the result is an engaging series of scenes from a literary life.

These the Companions: Recollections is an autobiography which is only indirectly concerned with its author. Much like Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast (1964), Davie reveals himself primarily by writing about those around him. He takes his title from a phrase in Ezra Pound’s The Pisan Cantos (1948), a work written at a similar time in Pound’s life in a similar spirit of gazing back over a life and assessing its accomplishments and failures. Like Pound, Davie finds much of the value of his life to have derived from the people and places he came to know, and from an attitude toward culture to which he has tried to contribute.

Along with his title, Davie seems to derive part of the book’s methodology from Pound. Pound’s infamous “ideogrammic method” for writing poetry called for placing side by side “luminous details,” those apparently insignificant details from life that are in fact carefully chosen to illuminate surrounding circumstances, the significance of which is left to the reader to ascertain or construct. Davie uses a similar strategy in These the Companions. Rather than offer an exhaustive recounting of his life, he focuses on a handful of times and locales, capturing in relatively few strokes the tone and temper of the...

(The entire section is 799 words.)