Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

John Davidson

Talking about clerks sent me back to John Davidson's Thirty Bob a Week.  Davidson was a minor poet, but Thirty Bob a Week is a great poem. It came out the year after Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads. Was Davidson following Kipling or did it come to each of them as a separate inspiration that he should speak up for the underclass?  

We had a poetry book at school called Thirty Great British Poets (or something of the sort). It contained sizeable extracts from the chosen thirty- arranged in order of birth-date- the first of them being Blake and the last (I think) George Barker. The selection was wildly eccentric and I've been arguing with it in my head ever since. Is Barker a great poet? Is Edwin Muir? And why don't Kipling and Morris and Swinburne make the cut? Actually, isn't that one of the joys of any anthology- that it makes you want to argue? One of the "greats" was Davidson and if it hadn't been for the anthology I'd probably never have encountered him, so- unremembered editor- you have my undying gratitude. 

I can't pretend I've read much of Davidson. Most of the time he wasn't particularly good. He belongs to that transitional generation that was trying, trying, trying so very hard to be modern. Hardy broke through, Kipling broke through, Yeats broke through, but Davidson remained mired down in Victoriana. Thirty Bob a Week is the the only thing of its kind he ever wrote. Otherwise A Ballad of Hell is stirring and A Runnable Stag (which seems to anticipate Davidson's own suicide by drowning) is a uniquely weird, late-romantic masterpiece. 
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