John Davidson



The Criticism of Poetry.


Literatur: Davidson
Literatur: The Speaker


ANYONE who has ever trusted himself knows that knowledge is in the air; and that in brooding, in loafing, in living, knowledge is absorbed by the pores of the body. The eyes and the ears are the main thoroughfares of knowledge, but there are many by-ways intractable to sight and hearing, devious and erratic in supposition, but as marked and inevitable as the seemingly wanton paths of fish in the river or of birds in the air. The body, the whole body, is also the soul. It is the nerves, the heart, the liver, the germs of live that apprehend and think and feel. The seat of memory is probably in the muscles. The brain is only a register and sifter – at the highest an alembic. Imagination gathers the flower of the whole anatomy. It is in this that the poet differs from the thinker, with whom it is the habit at present to confound him. A thinker is one who has permitted his brain, the chief servant of his soul, to get the upper hand, just as the epicure gives the reins of power to his palate. In the poet the whole assembly of his being is harmonious; no organ is master; a diapason extends throughout the entire scale; his whole body, his whole soul is rapt into the making of his poetry. Every poet is a new experiment; all poetry is empirical. And this is simply saying over again that there is such a thing as poetry, and that poets are born into the world; but as poets and poetry are rare, it may be no disservice, remenbering that such a thing as a "boom in poets" has been talked of, to remind the running reader that the poet is the most exceptional of men.

How is poetry to be recognised? Literary criticism has a comparative method, the employment of a foot-rule or tape-line obtained by the study of accepted poetry, a method not altogether to be despised. It is, of course, the only possible method of dealing with the huge body of imitative verse; but it does not commend itself to me in the criticism of actual poetry except as a most subsidiary aid. Poetry is the product of originality, of a first-hand experience and observation of live, of a direct communion with men and women, with the seasons of the year, with day and night. The critic will therefore be well advised, if he have the good fortune to find something that seems to him poetry, to lay it out in the daylight and the moonlight, to take it into the street and the fields, to set against it his own experience and observation of live, and, should he be a poet himself, to remember how it was that he wrote his own poetry. In this way I reduce culture, which is only experience at second-hand, to its proper place as the merest handmaid of criticism.

It seems to me that Mr. Victor J. Daley's "At Dawn and Dusk" * deserves, in some measure, this actual criticism. The influence of Mr. Swinburne is apparent in "Years Ago", of Poe in the series called "Fragments," and of other poets in his ballads and sonnets. But "In a Wine Cellar" is an authentic Australian poem by an Australian poet: –

No vintage alien
    For thee or me!
Our fount Castalian
    Of poesy
Shall wine Australian,
    None other be. . . .

It has no glamour
    Of old romance,
Of war or amour
    In Spain or France;
Its poets stammer
    As yet, perchance;

But he may wholly
    Become a seer
Who quaffs it slowly;
    For he shall hear,
Though faintly, lowly,
    Yet sweat and clear.

The axes ringing
    On mountain sides,
The wool-boats swinging
    Down Darling tides,
The drovers singing
    Where Clancy rides.

The miners driving,
    The stockman's strife;
All sounds conniving
    To tell the rife,
Rich, rude, strong-striving
    Australian life.

Once more your hand in
    This hand of mine!
And while we stand in
    The brave sunshine,
Pledge deep our land in
    Our land's own wine!

This is new and free. In "The Poet Care" there is the same freshness, the same novelty.

Care is a poet fine:
He works in shade or shine,
And leaves - you know his sign! –
No day without its line.

He writes with iron pen
Upon the brows of men;
Faint lines at first, and then
He scores them in again. . . .

Then deeper script appears:
The furrows of dim fears,
The traces of old tears,
The tide-marks of the years.

To him, with side made strong
By suffering and wrong,
The brows of all the throng
Are eloquent with song.

It is not to the purpose to say that this has been said and sung before. It is here sung newly, at first-hand, by a poet living at this present day in the fifth continent of the world. Adam and Eve said it to each other when they began to grow old. But it is all to say over again; it is the mission of the poet to state the world afresh. The critic of words and phrases will find much to except in Mr. Daley's poetry, although some of his workmanship is excellent, especially in his more conventional pieces: "The River Maiden" and "His Mate" are particularly fine. But academic questions of rhyme, rhythm, and diction have little more to do with poetry than epaulettes and <pipe-clay> have to do with strategy. Poetry is not always an army on parade; [259] sometimes it is an army coming back from the wars, epaulettes and pipe-clay all gone, shoeless, ragged, wounded, starved, but with victory on its brows.



[Fußnote, S. 258]

  * "At Dawn and Dusk." By Victor J. Daley. London: James Bowden.   zurück





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Speaker.
Bd. 19, 1899, 4. März, S. 258-259.

Gezeichnet: JOHN DAVIDSON.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Speaker   online




Davidson, John: In a Music Hall and Other Poems.
London: Ward and Downey 1891.

Davidson, John: Fleet Street Eclogues.
London: E. Mathews & J. Lane 1893.
PURL:   [2d ed.]

Davidson, John: Sentences and Paragraphs.
London: Lawrence & Bullen 1893.

Davidson, John: Ballads & Songs.
London: John Lane, The Bodley Head; Boston: Copeland &: Day 1894.

Davidson, John: A Second Series of Fleet Street Eclogues.
London: John Lane, The Bodley Head; New York: Dodd, Mead and Co. 1896.

Davidson, John: The Last Ballad and other Poems.
London u. New York: John Lane 1899.

Davidson, John: Pre-Shakespearianism.
In: The Speaker.
Bd. 19, 1899, 28. Januar, S. 107-108.

Davidson, John: The Criticism of Poetry.
In: The Speaker.
Bd. 19, 1899, 4. März, S. 258-259.

Davidson, John: Tête-à-Tête.
James Boswell. Dr. Johnson.
In: The Speaker.
Bd. 19, 1899, 6. Mai, S. 523-524.

Davidson, John: Tête-à-Tête.
Lord Smith. Lord Tennyson.
In: The Speaker.
Bd. 19, 1899, 1. Juli, S. 741-743.

Davidson, John: Tête-à-Tête.
Cosmo Mortimer. Ninian Jamieson.
In: The Speaker.
Bd. 19, 1899, 29. Juli, S. 99-100.

Davidson, John: A Rosary.
London: G. Richards 1903.

Davidson, John: The Man Forbid, and Other Essays.
Boston: The Ball Publishing Co. 1910.

Lindsay, Maurice (Hrsg.): John Davidson, A Selection of his Poems
[inc. preface by T.S. Eliot and an essay by Hugh MacDiarmid].
London: Hutchinson & Co. 1961.

Turnbull, Andrew (Hrsg.): The Poems of John Davidson.
2 Bde. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1973.

Sloane, John (Hrsg.): Selected Poems and Prose of John Davidson.
Oxford: Clarendon Press 1995.




Literatur: Davidson

Angeletti, Gioia: Eccentric Scotland. Three Victorian Poets. James Thomson ("B. V."), John Davidson, James Young Geddes. Bologna 2004.

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Bristow, Joseph (Hrsg.): The Fin-de-Siècle poem. English Literary Culture and the 1890s. Athens 2005.

Hynd, Hazel: Tradition and Rebellion. The Poetry of John Davidson. Diss. University of Glasgow 2001.

Marcus, Laura u.a. (Hrsg.): Late Victorian into Modern. Oxford 2016.

McCracken-Flesher, Caroline: Fin-de-Siècle Scotland. In: The Edinburgh Companion to Fin de Siècle Literature, Culture and the Arts. Hrsg. von Josephine M. Guy. Edinburgh 2018, S.  181-195.

O'Connor, Mary: John Davidson. An Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him. In: English Literature in Transition 1880-1920. 20 (1977), S. 112-174.

Robinson, Peter: The Poetry of Modern Life: On the Pavement. In: The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry. Hrsg von Matthew Bevis. Oxford u.a. 2013, S. 254-272.

Sloan, John: John Davidson, First of the Moderns. A Literary Biography. Oxford u.a. 1995.

Thain, Marion: The Lyric Poem and Aestheticism. Forms of Modernity. Edinburgh 2016.



Literatur: The Speaker

Brake, Laurel / Demoor, Marysa (Hrsg.): Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Gent u. London 2009.

King, Andrew / Plunkett, Andrew (Hrsg.): Victorian Print Media. A Reader. Oxford 2005.

King, Andrew u.a. (Hrsg.): The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers. London u. New York 2019.

Macleod, Jock: Between Politics and Culture: Liberal Journalism and Literary Cultural Discourse at the Fin de Siècle. In: English Literature in Transition 1880-1920. 51.1 (2008), S. 5-22.

Macleod, Jock: Literature, Journalism, and the Vocabularies of Liberalism. Politics and Letters, 1886-1916. Basingstoke u.a. 2013.



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer