cover image To Scorch or Freeze: Poems about the Sacred

To Scorch or Freeze: Poems about the Sacred

Donald Davie. University of Chicago Press, $12.5 (62pp) ISBN 978-0-226-13755-1

The author of some 15 volumes of poetry, Davie does not abandon intellectual force in order to espouse his religious convictions. However, he struggles here with his own rhetorical power and eloquence. The result is often strained and tiresome in these poems, which rely on the 16th century tradition of imitating the Psalms of David for their brief lyrical moments, and on the doctrines of the Christian Church for their content. Davie attempts a reconciliation between the evangelist irrationality he satirizes in earlier poems and his own deeply felt religious faith. Yet the personal voice is painfully self-conscious, especially when Davie condemns his own practice of ironic distancing: ``Lover of the mephitic, / of fog and stink, / his natural haunt the road by the chemicals plant, / his elegant strong suit / is tacit and total carnage: / the Devil's Work, whose mark / (frivolity and distraction) / is on this page also / as on the best we can do.'' So, too, when he points to his poetic limits: ``Hear my prayer, O Lord, / and please to consider my calling: / it commits me to squawking / and running off at the mouth.'' (Dec.)