Davie, Donald

England, (1922-1995)

Wild Boar Clough

  1. I.
  2. A poet’s lie!
  3. The boarhound and the boar
  4. Do not pursue their pattern as before.
  5. What English eyes since Dryden’s thought to scan
  6. Our spinneys for the Presbyterian,
  7. The tusked, the native beast inflamed to find
  8. And rend the spotted or the milk-white hind,
  9. The true Church, or the half-true? Long ago
  10. Where once were tusks, neat fangs began to grow;
  11. Citizen of the World and Friend to Man,
  12. The presbyter’s humanitarian.
  13. The poor pig learned to flute: the brute was moved
  14. By plaudits of a conscience self-approved;
  15. “Self in benevolence absorb’d and lost”
  16. Absorbed a ruinous Redemption’s cost.
  17.  
  18. This too a lie; a newer zealot’s, worse
  19. Than any poet’s in or out of verse.
  20. These were the hunting-calls, and this the hound,
  21. Harried the last brave pig from English ground;
  22. Now ermine, whited weasel, sinks his tooth
  23. Deeper than wolf or boar into the Truth.
  24. Extinct, the English boar; he leaves a lack.
  25. Hearts of the disinherited grow black.
  26.  
  27. II.
  28. When he grew up
  29. in the England of silver
  30. cigarette cases and
  31. Baptist chapel on Sundays,
  32.  
  33. long white flannels were still
  34. worn, and the Mission Fields
  35. ripe for the scything Gospel
  36. cost him a weekly penny.
  37.  
  38. The missionary box!
  39. It rattled as he knocked it,
  40. crouching near the wireless:
  41. deuce, Fred Perry serving …
  42.  
  43. Doggedly he applies
  44. himself to the exhumations:
  45. these pre-war amateurs,
  46. that missionary martyr.
  47.  
  48. As gone as Cincinnatus!
  49. Still tongue-in-cheek revered, as
  50. Republican virtue by
  51. a silver-tongued florid Empire,
  52.  
  53. tired of that even, lately.
  54.  
  55. III.
  56. To Loughwood Meeting House,
  57. Redeemed since and re-faced,
  58. Once persecuted Baptists
  59. Came across sixty miles
  60. Of Devon. Now we ask
  61. Our own good wincing taste
  62. To show the way to Heaven.
  63.  
  64. But if under clear-glassed windows,
  65. The clear day looking in,
  66. We should be always at worship
  67. And trusting in His merits
  68. Who saves us from the pathos
  69. Of history, and our fears
  70. Of natural disasters,
  71.  
  72. What antiquarian ferrets
  73. We have been! As idle
  74. An excrescence as Ionic
  75. Pilasters would be, or
  76. Surely the Puritan poet:
  77. Burning, redundant candle,
  78. Invisible at noon.
  79.  
  80. We are, in our way, at worship;
  81. Though in the long-deflowered
  82. Dissenting chapel that
  83. England is, the slim
  84. Flame of imagination,
  85. Asymmetrical, wavers,
  86. Starving for dim rose-windows.
  87.  
  88. IV.
  89. And so he raged exceedingly,
  90. excessively indeed, he raged excessively
  91. and is said to have been drunk, as certainly
  92. in some sense and as usual he was;
  93. lacking as usual, and in some
  94. exorbitant measure, charity,
  95. candour in an old sense. How
  96. a black heart learns white-heartedness, you tell me!
  97.  
  98. Raged, and beshrewed his audience of one
  99. without much or at all
  100. intending it, having his eyes not on
  101. her but on the thing to be hunted down;
  102. or so he will excuse himself, without
  103. much confidence. The rapist’s plea:
  104. not her but womankind. He has
  105. the oddest wish for some way to disgrace himself.
  106.  
  107. How else can a pharisee clear the accounts, and live?
  108.  
  109. V.
  110. Wild Boar Clough … known to his later boyhood
  111. As the last gruelling stage before,
  112. Feet and collar-bones raw, the tarmacadam
  113. Past unbelievable spa-hotels
  114. Burned to the train at Buxton. Julian Symons,
  115. His poems, Confessions of X, reviewed
  116. In Poetry London, bought on Buxton Station …
  117.  
  118. A nut-brown maid whom he cannot remember
  119. Sold him herb beer, a farmhouse brew,
  120. One day above Wild Boar Clough, whose peat-sieved brown
  121. Waters were flecked below them. Legs
  122. Were strong then, heart was light, was white, his swart
  123. Limbs where the old glad Adam in him,
  124. Lissom and slim, exulted, carried him.
  125.  
  126. Somewhere that boy still swings to the trudging rhythm,
  127. In some brown pool that girl still reaches
  128. A lazy arm. The harm that history does us
  129. Is grievous but not final. As
  130. The wild boar still in our imaginations
  131. Snouts in the bracken, outward is
  132. One steep direction gleefully always open.
  133.  
  134. So Lud’s Church hides in Cheshire thereabouts
  135. Cleft in the moor. The slaughtered saints
  136. Cut down of a Sunday morning by dragoons
  137. Grounded the English Covenant
  138. In ling and peat-moss. Sound of singing drifts
  139. Tossed up like spume, persistently
  140. Pulsing through history and out of it.

© Davie, Donald. Collected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet (1990).

Editor’s Note:

Wildboarclough (Wild Boar Clough) is a small rural hamlet in east Cheshire, England, in the civil parish of Macclesfield Forest and Wildboarclough within the Peak District National Park – Britain’s oldest national park.

Wildboarclough is one of the many areas where, legend says, the last wild boar in England was killed. This is untrue, the name more likely arising from the wild and rapid rise in levels of the nearby Clough Brook after a heavy fall of rain – the brook then being not unlike a raging boar; or the name simply arose because the area is a deep valley (i.e. a clough) that was long ago frequented by wild boars.

About the Poet:

Donald Alfred Davie (1922-1995) was English poet, and literary critic, scholar and a distinguished editor. His poems in general are philosophical and abstract, but often evoke various landscapes. He also often wrote on the technique of poetry, both in books such as Purity of Diction in English Verse, and in smaller articles such as ‘Some Notes on Rhythm in Verse’. Davie’s criticism and poetry are both characterized by his interest in modernist and pre-modernist techniques.

Davie was at the forefront of a loosely affiliated group of poets, called The Movement, who believed in continuing the long tradition of the logical principles regarding English diction and syntax. The Movement was, among other things, a sharp break with imagism and symbolism as they appear in the poetry of Pound and Eliot. Davies cautioned that to abandon logical syntax, “is to throw away a tradition central to human thought.” [DES-07/12]

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