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Donald Davie

Donald Davie

Donald Alfred Davie (17 July 1922 – 18 September 1995) was an English Movement poet, and literary critic. His poems in general are philosophical and abstract, but often evoke various landscapes.


  • Biography 1
  • Works 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Davie was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England, a son of Baptist parents. He began his education at Barnsley Hogate Grammar School, and he later attended St Catharine's College, Cambridge. His studies there were interrupted by service during the war in the Royal Navy in Arctic Russia, where he taught himself the language. In the last year of the war, in Devon, he married Doreen John.[1][2] After returning to Cambridge, he continued his studies and received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. He returned to Cambridge in 1958, and in 1964 was made the first Professor of English at the new University of Essex. He taught English at the University of Essex from 1964 until 1968, when he moved to Stanford University, where he succeeded Yvor Winters. In 1978, he relocated to Vanderbilt University, where he taught until his retirement in 1988.

He often wrote on the technique of poetry, both in books such as Purity of Diction in English Verse, and in smaller articles such as 'Some Notes on Rhythm in Verse'. Davie's criticism and poetry are both characterized by his interest in modernist and pre-modernist techniques. 'Davie claimed ‘there is no necessary connection between the poetic vocation on the one hand, and on the other exhibitionism, egoism, and licence'.[3] He writes eloquently and sympathetically about British modernist poetry in Under Briggflatts, while in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry he defends a pre-modernist verse tradition. Much of Davie's poetry has been compared to that of the traditionalist Philip Larkin, but other works are more influenced by Ezra Pound. He is featured in the Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse (1980).

Irish literary critic Denis Donoghue described Davie's poetry as "an enforced choice between masturbation and happily wedded love" bereft of drama.[4]

Writer Calvin Bedient discusses Davie's style in his book "Eight Contemporary Poets." He informs readers of Davie's specific thoughts by including quotes. According to Bedient, Davie said that 'To make poetry out of moral commonplace, a poet has to make it clear that he speaks not in his own voice (that would be impertinent) but as the spokesman of a social tradition.' It follows that Davie's voice is unique compared to the modern movement that was happening during his life. His work does not epitomize contemporary poetry like that of many of his counterparts, but rather it calls upon a certain nostalgia for the past. Davie's work is distinctly "English" sounding, as he uses English phrases and traditional language. In particular, his work often reminds readers of the late Augustan poets, whose work is sophisticated and polished. His writes in a similar style to Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes, who were both alive during Davie's lifetime. In addition, Davie writes without fear of criticism. He uses a strong and confident voice to assert his thoughts and musings.


  • A Winter Talent and other poems (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957)
  • Events & Wisdoms (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964)
  • In the Stopping Train and other poems (Carcanet Press, 1977)
  • Selected Poems (Carcanet Press, 1985)
  • Trying To Explain (Carcanet Press, 1986)
  • To Scorch Or Freeze (Carcanet Press, 1988)
  • Under Briggflatts (Carcanet Press, 1989)
  • Slavic Excursions (Carcanet Press, 1990)
  • These the Companions (Carcanet Press, 1990)
  • Ezra Pound (Carcanet Press, 1991)
  • Older Masters (Carcanet Press, 1992)
  • Purity of Diction In English Verse and Articulate Energy (Carcanet Press, 1994)
  • Church Chapel and the Unitarian Conspiracy (Carcanet Press, 1995)
  • Poems & Melodramas (Carcanet Press, 1996)
  • With The Grain: Essays On Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (Carcanet Press, 1998)
  • Two Ways Out Of Whitman:American Essays (Carcanet Press, 2000)
  • Collected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2002)
  • A Travelling Man: Eighteenth Century Bearings(Carcanet Press, 2003)
  • Modernist Essays(Carcanet Press, 2004)
  • Purity of Diction In English Verse and Articulate Energy (Carcanet Press, 2006)


  1. ^ Schmidt, Michael: Lives of the Poets, p 727. Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, 2007.
  2. ^ Schmidt, Michael: The Great Modern Poets, p149. Quercus, 2006.
  3. ^ Schmidt, Michael: The Great Modern Poets, p 149. Quercus, 2006.
  4. ^ Donoghue, Denis. "Ten Poets" (review of the 1985 collection Selected Poems by Donald Davie) in London Review of Book 7:19 (7 November 1985), 20-22.

External links

  • Works by or about Donald Davie in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • at GoogleBooksCollected Poems
  • Recordings of 24 lectures Donald Davie gave at Stanford in 1975 on W. B. Yeats
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