Davidson Michael

Davidson's conception of poetry embraced the oral tradition as an element essential to the community, necessary both for identity and survival. Poetry, therefore, must always give form to communal experience, thus providing a medium through which traditions are preserved. For the Fugitives-Agrarians, this belief derived from the southern sensibility that included a strong attachment to the traditional values of loyalty to family, place, and God. Contrary to many of the other Fugitives, however, who tended to bemoan the encroaching loss of such traditional attachments in the modern world, Davidson emphasized their enduring presence. His best poem, "Lee in the Mountains, 1865-1870" (1934), depicts Robert E. Lee while president of Washington College—far from Appomattox and the Confederate surrender. Lee contemplates the southern virtues that guided his actions during the "War between the States" and considers how they continue to guide his life. He concludes that although the Civil War may have been lost, the significance of cultural traditions was not. Thus the poem emphasizes the importance of such loyalty, as the narrator observes that God waits "To bring this lost forsaken valor . . . Unto all generations of the faithful heart."

Some of Davidson's distinctive traits include his insistence on the necessity of a relationship between high art and folk art, the need for a writer to preserve regional ties, and a preference for the committed lyric and the heroic voice rather than the more obscure, impersonal style of the poets of modernism. Moreover he recognized the difficulty of the southern writer: He was both unable to embrace the modern trends that scorned southern heritage and unwilling to endorse a backward-seeming culture. His figurative compromise was to embrace southern qualities, including what he identified as "exuberance, sensitiveness, liveliness of imagination, warmth and flexibility of temper" (Cowan 52). These traits can be seen particularly in "Randall, My Son" (1955), "Sanctuary" (1938), and "Hermitage" (1943), all of which use narrative within the poetry, commemorating familial and cultural events in the process. One notable poem, "On a Replica of the Parthenon" (1955), refers to contemporary Nashville, Tennessee, and its full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon, built to commemorate the state's centen nial. Davidson's wry depiction of the oblivious passersby suggests the risks faced by ignoring tradition as the speaker criticizes those who would turn tradition into mere convention because they do not understand their cultural foundation.

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