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Donald Davidson (Courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, Fugitive and Agrarian Collection.)

Remembering the Right

Remembering Donald Davidson

The Rock of Tennessee

Lewis P. Simpson, in his memorable preface to The Literary Correspondence of Donald Davidson and Allen Tate, evoked Thomas Carlyle’s description of Robert Burns to hail Davidson’s own achievement. Burns, wrote Carlyle, was a “piece of right Saxon stuff: strong as the Harz-rock, rooted in the depths of the world;—rock, yet with wells of living softness in it!” So, too, was Davidson rooted in the depths of his Southern world.

As a man of letters, there wasn’t much he couldn’t do: poetry, essays, a history of the Tennessee River, a novel, and a libretto for a folk opera. Just as importantly, he was an unforgettable teacher of literature and creative writing. However, his adamant stand against desegregation in the 1950s and ’60s has obscured Davidson’s long-lasting importance as a great American poet, as one of the founders of the Fugitive-Agrarian movement, and as a pivotal forerunner of paleoconservatism.

Son of a grade school principal, Davidson was born and raised in Campbellsville, Tennessee. At Vanderbilt, the young Davidson played football, while honing his verse under the tutelage of John Crowe Ransom, the initial leader of the Fugitive group. Davidson, a veteran of World War I, published...

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