Donald Davidson (poet)

Donald Davidson (poet)

Donald Grady Davidson (August 8, 1893, Campbellsville in Giles County, Tennessee – April 25, 1968, Nashville, Tennessee) was a U.S. poet, essayist, social and literary critic, and author. He is best known as a founding member of the Nashville, Tennessee circle of poets known as the Fugitives and of an overlapping group, the Southern Agrarians.



Davidson was born to William Bluford Davidson, a teacher and school administrator, and Elma Wells Davidson, a music and elocution teacher. He received a classical education at Branham and Hughes preparatory school in Spring Hill, Tennessee. He earned both his bachelor's (1917) and master's (1922) degrees at Vanderbilt University. He later received honorary doctorates from Cumberland University, Washington and Lee University, and Middlebury College. He served as a lieutenant in the United States Army during World War I. In June 1918 he married Theresa Sherrer, a legal scholar and artist.[1]

While at Vanderbilt, Davidson became associated with the Fugitives, who met to read and criticize each other's verse. Later they founded a review of the same name, which launched the literary careers of the poets and critics John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren, the poet Laura Riding, and the poet and psychiatrist Merrill Moore. He enjoyed a national reputation as a poet, in part due to the inclusion of his dramatic monologue, "Lee in the Mountains", in early editions of the influential college literature textbook Understanding Poetry. Its editors were his former students Warren and Cleanth Brooks. From 1923 to 1930, Davidson reviewed books and edited the Nashville Tennessean book page, where he assessed more than 370 books. The book page was well respected and syndicated to other newspapers.

Around 1930, Davidson began his association with the Southern Agrarians. He was chiefly responsible for the decision of the group to write essays, published as the Agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand. Davidson shared the Agrarians' distaste for industrial capitalism and its destructive effect on American culture. Davidson's romantic outlook, however, led him to interpret Agrarianism as a straightforward politics of identity. "American" identity had become "characterless and synthetic," he argued in 1933. He encouraged Americans to embrace their identities as "Rebels, Yankees, Westerners, New Englanders or what you will, bound by ties more generous than abstract institutions can express, rather than citizens of an Americanized nowhere, without family, kin, or home." He was in favor of segregation.[2]

In 1931 Davidson began a long association with Middlebury College's Breadloaf School of English. He bought a house in Vermont where he did much of his later writing. He taught at the Breadloaf School every summer until his death. In 1939 his textbook, American Composition and Rhetoric, was published and widely adopted for English courses in American universities.

Perhaps most widely read today is Davidson's two-volume history: The Tennessee (1946 and 1948), in the Rivers of America series. The second volume is notable for its critique of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the impact of its dam-building and eminent-domain land seizure on local society. He also chaired the pro-segregation group, the Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government. In 1952 his ballad opera, Singin' Billy, with music by Charles F. Bryan, was performed at the Vanderbilt Theater. His work as book page editor for the Nashville Tennessean was commemorated in 1963 with the publication of The Spyglass: Views and Reviews, 1924-1930.

Davidson retired from teaching in 1964. A comprehensive collection of his poetry, Poems: 1922-61, was published in 1966.[3][4]



  • The Big Ballad Jamboree (1996, posthumous)


  • An Outland Piper (1924)
  • The Tall Men (1927)
  • Lee in the Mountains and Other Poems (1938)
  • The Long Street (1961)
  • Collected Poems: 1922-1961 (1966)


  • Singin' Billy (1952)


  • I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930, co-author)
  • The Tennessee (1946)
  • Rivers of America (1948)
  • Still Rebels, Still Yankees (1957)
  • Southern Writers in the New World (1958)
  • The Spyglass: Views and Reviews, 1924-1930 (1963)


  1. ^ Special Collections : Virtual Reading Room : Fugitives and Agrarians Biographical Sketches
  2. ^ Susan V. Donaldson, 'Introduction', in I'll Take my Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, 75th Anniversary Edition, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006, p. xxxii
  3. ^ "DONALD DAVIDSON", Tennessee Encyclopedia]
  4. ^ Ellison, Curtis and Pratt, William. Afterword, The Big Ballad Jamboree, by Donald Davidson. University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

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