Sunday 18 December 2022

Dick Davis

 This blog has featured too little poetry recently, in large part because nearly all my books are still in storage. However, I recently got my hands on a slim volume by Dick Davis, Seeing the World (1980), and it has not disappointed. Davis is one of those gifted poets who will never be fashionable: even his name is against him (someone should write a thesis on the effect of a good/bad name on writers' literary success – would Louis de Bernière have done so well if he was called Dave Smith?). Davis is also an unfashionable kind of poet – a formalist, like Thom Gunn (a better name), and, like Gunn, a disciple of the eternally unfashionable Yvor Winters. Also like Gunn, Davis was a product of Cambridge (King's, my old college, in Davis's case) – not that that is necessarily a springboard to oblivion. 
Anyway, here is a rather beautiful poem from Seeing The World, this one inspired by one of Rembrandt's intensely moving late masterpieces. I think it perfectly captures the essence of the painting – 

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son

Age instinct with wisdom, love, bends towards
The sensual man, the penitent, and clasps
Him lightly by the shoulder-blades. In rags
The latter kneels and rests his close-cropped head
Against the Father’s chest. Some watch, and one,
Whose face is lit, old as the Father, looks
With unobserved compassion at the scene.

His comprehension is the artist’s own:
His silence and the Father’s flood the frame
But cannot quite subdue the young man’s sobs,
The fixed, sad past; the waste that love would heal.

And here is another fine ekphrastic poem from Seeing the World, this one inspired by a Guardi painting that hangs in the National Gallery, A Caprice with Ruins on the Seashore – 

On a Painting by Guardi

  Slowly the chill lagoon
Returns to flood these noisome ponds;
  Grotesque, dense weeds festoon
The ruined arch with airy fronds

   In whose shade scavengers
– Tenacious as the trailing weeds –
  Time's ghostly avatars,
Indifferent to the grace that feeds

  Their chance cupidity,
Draw strength from glory in decay.
  Great Mutability,
All here declares your mordant sway.

  I gaze, hardly aware
Of this overt, didactic aim:
  Rather the misty air,
The blank, amorphous shore proclaim

  An eye in love with blurred
And insubstantial forms, a mind
  By evanescence stirred – 
A suppliant of the undefined,

  The pale marsh-haze of noon;
And one who in each breeze could see
  – Ruffling the chill lagoon –
The tremor of mortality.

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