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Under Briggflatts
A History of Poetry in Great Britain, 1960-1988
Donald Davie
University of Chicago Press, 1989
Under Briggflatts is a history of the last thirty years of British poetry with necessary excursions into other areas: criticism, philosophy, translation, and non-British English poetries. It has grown naturally out of Donald Davie's immediate involvement with new writing as a poet, reviewer, teacher, and reader. He has reassessed the writers who have most engaged his attention, revised his reviews, and supplemented earlier material with much that is new. Under Briggflatts provides a narrative that is remarkable in scope and generous in tone. By combining close readings of specific poems and more general considerations of style, form, and context, Davie's account is characteristically elegant, precise, and uncompromising.

Under Briggflatts is organized in three large chapters, one devoted to each decade. In the 1960s, Davie pays particular attention to the work of Austin Clarke, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman McCaig, Keith Douglas, Edwin Muir, Basil Bunting (the gurus whose prose writings helped catalyze the traumatic events of 1968), Elaine Feinstein, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Philip Larkin, Charles Tomlinson, Thomas Kinsella, and Ted Hughes. The second chapter follows these figures into the new decade and explores the work of (among others) Thom Gunn, C. H. Sisson, R. S. Thomas, John Betjeman, and such themes as women's poetry, translation, poetic theory, and the later impact of T. S. Eliot and of Edward Thomas. Perhaps the most controversial chapter is the third, in which David—without abandoning the poets already introduced—assesses Geoffrey Hill, Tony Harrison, and Seamus Heaney, and looks too at the recovery of Ivor Gurney's poems, at Ted Hughes as Laureate, the posthumous work of Sylvia Townsend Warner, the burgeoning Hardy industry, and the critical writings of Kenneth Cox.

front cover of The Use of Poetry and Use of Criticism
The Use of Poetry and Use of Criticism
Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England
T. S. Eliot
Harvard University Press, 1961

The 1932–33 Norton Lectures are among the best and most important of T. S. Eliot’s critical writings. Tracing the rise of literary self-consciousness from the Elizabethan period to his own day, Eliot does not simply examine the relation of criticism to poetry, but invites us to “start with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, or of what use it is; and try to find out, in examining the relation of poetry to criticism, what the use of both of them is.”

Eliot begins with the appearance of poetry criticism in the age of Dryden, when poetry became the province of an intellectual aristocracy rather than part of the mind and popular tradition of a whole people. Wordsworth and Coleridge, in their attempt to revolutionize the language of poetry at the end of the eighteenth century, made exaggerated claims for poetry and the poet, culminating in Shelley’s assertion that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.” And, in the doubt and decaying moral definitions of the nineteenth century, Arnold transformed poetry into a surrogate for religion.

By studying poetry and criticism in the context of its time, Eliot suggests that we can learn what is permanent about the nature of poetry, and makes a powerful case for both its autonomy and its pluralism in this century.


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