176. (Robert Burns)

It’s difficult to know what to do with Robert Burns, besides read and enjoy him, and take fortification from him; he doesn’t seem to play games with words that invite others to play along, and the poetry is disarming for criticism of a certain fervent close-reading type, less by its honesty than by its plausible claims to honesty. Maybe it’s easier, initially, to appreciate the … Continue reading 176. (Robert Burns)

144. (Philip Larkin)

[COMPLETE VERSION.]  A chief complaint against Larkin is the insularity, his reaction to modernism that confuses an affirmation of Hardy’s special and lasting richness with a rejection of the internationalism that characterizes Pound and Eliot. It is the Larkin we see in a conversation with 1964 Ian Hamilton (collected in Further Requirements); asked “Do you read any foreign poetry,” the reply is stodgy and affected: “Foreign … Continue reading 144. (Philip Larkin)

113. (Ezra Pound)

Pound, whose faith in poetry as a force to make something happen was constant and remains invigorating, began his career with poems that realize that possibility not through injunctions to act or imperatives to civilize, but through informing his reader’s “fundamental disposition towards the world.” Though he is opposed Pound ideologically, John Dewey’s phrase for appreciating how Pound’s achievement as an inventive craftsman might be … Continue reading 113. (Ezra Pound)

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, … Continue reading 86. (Christopher Smart)

64. (Ezra Pound)

Of Ezra Pound’s poem “The Return,” Donald Davie remarks how “surprising” it is that “a poet who had scored his most brilliant successes with Browningesque poems, dense with the tangible presences of men recorded in history and occupying a very particular time and space, should have wanted to write a poem like this–let alone, that he should have brought it off.” Occurring in “a dimension … Continue reading 64. (Ezra Pound)

49. (Walter Savage Landor)

Walter Savage Landor is the forgotten Romantic, both because he is rarely read and because the tradition in which his name has been preserved is antagonistic to Romanticism: Pound sets him on a pedestal against the spilt excesses of the early nineteenth century. Among major critics, Donald Davie is perhaps alone in asking that we remember Landor in the Romantic tradition, point out that Landor … Continue reading 49. (Walter Savage Landor)

30. (Samuel Johnson)

At the same time as the novel was rising in the world, the greatest force in English letters was working in a direction antithetical to its principles of success. Johnson delights and despairs in generalization and abstractions. The best critic on the matter is the best critic of the eighteenth-century, Donald Davie, who is well aware that the tendency to generalize and personify abstract ideas … Continue reading 30. (Samuel Johnson)