VIEWSn^ ^’ I ‘he Lyric of Tradition” is an essay written nearlynJ. twenty-five years ago by the late Donald Davidson,ncelebrated American poet, critic, and philosopher of culturalnchange who developed, out of his own artistic practice, ancomprehensive theory of the role of literature in a healthynsociety. It was a view not at all like those of his friends andnfellow Fugitives, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren,nand Allen Tate; a view completely unrelated to the theory ofnalienation so important to almost all contemporary poetics.nThe essay is drawn from materials employed as part of anseries of public lectures on the lyric given at VanderbiltnUniversity in February and March of 1965—lectures thatnrepresented an early stage in Davidson’s work on a booknabout the origins of English lyric which he began with hisnretirement from the faculty of Vanderbilt in June of 1964.nHe finished this lecture and almost finished one other beforenhis death on April 25,1968, but problems with health and anvariety of writing obligations made the preparation (fornScribner’s) of a monograph on the early lyric, the poetry ofnsong, a task too large for the time and energy which he stillnhad at his disposal. Had Davidson lived longer he wouldnassuredly have added to the essay some of the special gracennotes that are part of his finished style. Still, the argument asn16/CHRONICLESnThe Lyric of Traditionnby Donald Davidsonnnnhe intended it is present in these pages and deserves ournattention as it stands.nIt was the opinion of Professor Davidson that literarynforms have an occasional or circumstantial character andnthat they are best explained by the purposes they arendesigned to serve. They are not by nature better suited to benheard, performed, or read by a coterie, set apart from othernmen and women by the refinement of their sensibility, butnare more naturally directed to a larger audience representativenof a cross section of a particular society. “Privatenpoetry” was for him an oxymoron. For audience or writer,nthe “guarded style” was, he believed, frequently a questionablenconsequence of aestheticism and the cultic view of artnas a quasi-religious experience. None of which is to say thatnDonald Davidson underestimated the mystery of all poeticnmaking or took a purely functional view of his craft. For hisnvision of the poet as keeper of a communal memory, as vatesnor uplifted singer functioning within the framework of antraditional society, is as high as anything ever imagined bynThomas or Yeats, Spenser, Wordsworth, or Milton. But itndoes not, according to what is now the fashion, presupposenthe absolute isolation of the artist by the necessities of hisnart, or a poetry that is in its proper element only on then