Donald Davie

Donald Davie

About Donald Davie

Donald Davie (17 July 1922 – 18 September 1995) was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England, to George Clarke Davie, a businessman, and Alice Sugden Davie. He earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Cambridge and, except for four years spent in the Royal Navy, worked as an academic his entire life. He received numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an honorary fellowship from Cambridge. Davie's landmark book of literary criticism is Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952), in which he argues that poets occupy an extremely important societal function as the most elevated users of language in any community. Davie asserts that poets, as language experts, are responsible for purifying and correcting the spoken language." According to Davie, poets can enlarge their languages by developing new metaphors, but purification comes through giving new meaning to old or dead metaphors. The keystone, for example, a dead metaphor that has lost its initial meaning as the stone at the top of an arch, now simply suggests importance without any reference to an arch. Davie is also known as a member of the MOVEMENT, a group of like-minded poets in the 1950s who resisted the appearance of extremely abstract and nearly incomprehensible poetry, believing instead that poetry's content should be rational, its form logical, and its language clear. Davie accomplishes these goals of clarity and rationality in the poem "Remembering the Thirties," in which he explains that his generation hears but does not fully understand the stories of the previous generation. In the clearest of lines, Davie writes that old veterans eventually realize "That what for them were agonies, for us / Are high-brow thrillers." Throughout his long academic career, Davie published nearly 30 volumes of criticism and verse while also editing more than a half dozen books about 18th-century poets, including a collection of William Wordsworth 's poetry. His productivity and the quality of both his scholarship and writing have prompted the critic Michael Schmidt to declare him "the defining poet-critic of his generation" and remark that "Donald Davie's impact as a critic will prove central and durable; his poems will survive in their formal diversity, their intellectual richness and rigour, their emotional honesty."
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