86. (Christopher Smart)

Donald Davie’s hand-annotated copy of Smart’s Song to David (e.d. J.B. Broadbent) is on my shelf; the annotations I might return to, but as a critical response to poet-critic Davie’s scholarly and informal reception of poet Smart’s critical-creative honoring of the Pslamist, some verses of my own. Feeling these to be critical, prosaic, and distinctly different in aspiration and pitch from the poems I’ve written for myself, I do not consider it a violation of the unspoken self-imposed rule that the blog be criticism first and last.


What did Davie think that night

when enthusiasm

crept and he sat to write

in margins, and the spasm


of fact, word, and graceful

metric could not

prevent his baleful

knowing what Smart knew hot


hell to be: the diverse

voice made too diverse, lost

in its echoes, the curse

of too, too many blessings blessed, the cost


of finding salvation in every limb

of every tree, cat, dog,

and fish, and judgment like a whim,

barked out in the fog?


All this the Psalmist

subdued, Smart admiring

the strength he missed

when wracked by conspiring


pains: reproach of number

set in love against infinity;

sublime grammar roused from slumber,

set to common speech.


Davie feeling

he could do no better

than read till reeling

drunk by the letter


of the verse, of the man

whose life was damned

more strangely than

most others, passionately scanned:


Adoration in each note;

Adoration in the pause

of the comma in the throat;

Adoration dwelling in the dwelling in a clause.




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