Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

A Trick of Sunlight

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

A Trick of Sunlight

Article excerpt

A Trick of Sunlight, by Dick Davis. Swallow Press, June 2006. $14.95 paper

Davis's poems exemplify Auden's definition of the art as "the clear expression of mixed feelings." With a sly, self-deprecating wit, a wisdom that spurns bombast, they are charming, as well as intelligent, so clear and deftly controlled than an inattentive reader might overlook the "mixed feelings" that they express, the disquiet and passionate ambivalence. The typical speaker of Davis's poems is a good-natured curmudgeon trying to make sense of his life. Figures from literature, music, and history offer him points of comparison, hints for insight. In "Chèvrefeuille," Davis borrows a motif from the twelfth-century poet Marie de France, comparing two lovers to intertwined honeysuckle and sapling vines. In trimeter couplets that show considerable technical skill, the poem introduces a five-line hypothetical, a counter-life, "Love's leaves and limbs conspire / As if unsaid desire / could intimately tether / Their substances together / And none could separate / Their growth's complicit state." Like the gracefully self-contained verse, the medieval reference retains a certain impersonality, a remoteness across time and cultures. This distance, though, invites intimacy. The reader witnesses how the speaker projects the lovers' dilemma onto whatever he considers, how the confident couplets and the lush metaphor express a need for understanding, a layered urgency.

In a characteristic move for Davis, "Happiness" explores the subject's absence. …

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