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The Case for Geoffrey Hill

Tom Paulin, 4 April 1985

Geoffrey HillEssays on his Work 
edited by Peter Robinson.
Open University, 259 pp., £18, March 1985, 0 335 10588 2
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... Geoffrey Hill’s second collection of poems, King Log, was published in 1968, that year of student radicalism and disappointment. Hill’s title is reactionary in its implications and derives from Aesop’s fable of the frogs who desired a king. In my edition of L’Estrange’s royalist version of Aesop the fable runs like this: The Frogs, living an easy, free life everywhere among the lakes and ponds, assembled together, one day, in a very tumultuous manner, and petitioned Jupiter to let them have a King ...

Shaggy Fellows

David Norbrook, 9 July 1987

A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After 
by David Perkins.
Harvard, 694 pp., £19.95, April 1987, 0 674 39946 3
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Collected Poems 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 207 pp., £3.95, September 1985, 0 14 008383 9
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The Poetry of Geoffrey Hill 
by Henry Hart.
Southern Illinois, 305 pp., $24.95, January 1986, 0 8093 1236 0
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... this line from Pound’s 11th Canto as one of the epigraphs to his Collected Poems, Geoffrey Hill concentrates our attention on one of the central problems posed by Pound’s poetry and explored by his own. Beauty is no absolute guarantee of truth or morality; art may illuminate or corrupt. As David Perkins points out in Modernism and ...

Jokes

Donald Davie, 11 June 1992

In the Circumstances: About Poems and Poets 
by Peter Robinson.
Oxford, 260 pp., £35, May 1992, 0 19 811248 3
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... now that there was always something odd about Peter Robinson’s being the editor, in 1985, of Geoffrey Hill: Essays on His Work, from the Open University Press. Robinson’s sensibility, particularly as one had encountered it in his poems, pointed away from the aloofness of Hill’s attitude to his public, and away ...

Too Many Alibis

James Wood: Geoffrey Hill, 1 July 1999

Canaan 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 76 pp., £7.99, September 1996, 0 14 058786 1
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The Truth of Love: A Poem 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 82 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 0 14 058910 4
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... Geoffrey Hill the poet is often washing his hands. Sensuous but deeply penitential, his poetry visits waves of scruple upon itself. No contemporary poet has a more contrite ear for the confessions, and the betrayals, of words. Of course, much great poetry has not worn this bent gesture, nor do we always want it to, and it can be irritating when Hill’s more pious admirers speak as if verse’s highest theme should be not the intolerable wrestle with words, but, as it were, a further wrestle with the wrestle ...

Ruling Imbecilities

Andrew Roberts, 7 November 1991

The Enemy’s Country: Words, Contexture and Other Circumstances of Language 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Oxford, 153 pp., £19.95, August 1991, 0 19 811216 5
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... On 11 November 1990 Geoffrey Hill published a Remembrance Day poem entitled ‘Carnival’, in the Sunday Correspondent. The occasion, and the appearance in a national newspaper, suggested the sort of work that a poet laureate might be expected to produce, although Hill’s acerbic satire on contemporary Britain was most unlike the arch public lyrics that Ted Hughes has published since his elevation to that role ...

Awkward Bow

Jeremy Noel-Tod: Geoffrey Hill, 6 March 2003

The Orchards of Syon 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 72 pp., £9.99, September 2002, 0 14 100991 8
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... The first poem of For the Unfallen (1958), Geoffrey Hill’s first book, was entitled ‘Genesis’. It declared: By blood we live, the hot, the cold, To ravage and redeem the world: There is no bloodless myth will hold. Hot blood is at the heart of Hill’s theological, oppositional poetics ...

Accidents of Language

John Lucas, 3 November 1983

The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Agenda and Deutsch, 31 pp., £3, April 1983, 0 233 97549 7
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... In the issue of Agenda for Spring 1983 there is an essay by Geoffrey Hill which will obviously become required reading for anyone who is seriously interested in his poetry. ‘Our word is our bond’ is in many ways an apologia for Hill’s view of poetry and, more particularly, for his sense of himself as poet ...

Best Things

Alan Hollinghurst, 20 August 1981

Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden 
Faber, 189 pp., £7.50, June 1981, 0 571 11689 2Show More
A Free Translation 
by Craig Raine.
Salamander, 29 pp., £4.50, June 1981, 0 907540 02 3
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A German Requiem 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 9 pp., £1.50, January 1981, 0 907540 00 7
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Caviare at the Funeral 
by Louis Simpson.
Oxford, 89 pp., £4.50, April 1981, 0 19 211943 5
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... about their subjects/performers, but the influences will often be far from straightforward. Geoffrey Hill and Thom Gunn impress by their quiet responsiveness, their unembarrassed exploration of their own complexities – but equally they are given by Haffenden the benefit of long interviews and of questioning which follows up both intellectual ...

Beddoes’ Best Thing

C.H. Sisson, 20 September 1984

The Force of Poetry 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 447 pp., £19.50, September 1984, 0 19 811722 1
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... Wordsworth and Beddoes, together with a handful of 20th-century poets from A.E. Housman to Geoffrey Hill. In Wordsworth we are to attend particularly to line-endings and to prepositions, in Marvell to ‘a particular figure of speech’, in Gower to ‘diction and formulae’. The sophistication of the critic is to be given its full range but the ...

Outcanoevre

Aingeal Clare: Alice Oswald, 23 March 2006

Woods etc 
by Alice Oswald.
Faber, 56 pp., £12.99, May 2005, 0 571 21852 0
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... through these various voices. The result is similar in spirit to Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts or Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns, a scrupulous tilling and scouring of the poet’s homeland. Despite her marked territoriality, there is an aura of communion in Oswald’s work (communion with God, nature, language – anything to hand) which can at times ...

Fallen Language

Donald Davie, 21 June 1984

The Lords of Limit: Essays on Literature and Ideas 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Deutsch, 203 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 233 97581 0
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... seem to be innocent, a thunderclap of unheralded revelation. These reflections are prompted by Geoffrey Hill’s formidably erudite and compacted essay, ‘Our Word is Our Bond’, which reappears now in The Lords of Limit, a volume which, it must be said, in everything from format to price does very great credit to the publishers. This ...

Rancorous Old Sod

Colin Burrow: Homage to Geoffrey Hill, 20 February 2014

Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Oxford, 973 pp., £35, November 2013, 978 0 19 960589 7
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... Not everyone​ likes Geoffrey Hill. There have been tedious arguments about his ‘difficulty’, about whether that difficulty has become hermetic obscurity in his later work, about his politics, and about whether the large quantity of verse he’s written in his sixties, seventies and eighties is as good as the relatively small number of poems he wrote in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s ...

Public Works

David Norbrook, 5 June 1986

The Faber Book of Political Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 481 pp., £17.50, May 1986, 0 571 13947 7
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... speaking. Readers of the London Review will remember the review of a collection of essays on Geoffrey Hill in which he bitterly attacked the conservatism of English poetry and criticism. Indignant correspondents retorted that Paulin’s literary judgment had been contaminated by political bias and that in any case he lacked any ear for the rhythms ...

Cute, My Arse

Seamus Perry: Geoffrey Hill, 12 September 2019

The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Oxford, 148 pp., £20, April 2019, 978 0 19 882952 2
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... You​ would be hard pressed to describe Geoffrey Hill’s final work. To say it is a sort of notebook cast as a prose poem in 271 sections of greatly varying length doesn’t get you very far. In one way it is squarely in the tradition of Pope’s Dunciad (which it mentions): it is a poem about the betrayal of England, a yowl of anger and outrage at the prevailing imbecility Hill often addressed in his later works ...

Fit and Few

Donald Davie, 3 May 1984

The Making of the Reader: Language and Subjectivity in Modern American, English and Irish Poetry 
by David Trotter.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 333 30632 5
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... trade in pathos are applauded for at one point departing into anti-pathos – Ted Hughes in Crow, Geoffrey Hill in Mercian Hymns and J.H. Prynne in Brass. The reader appealed to, or ‘made’, by these books is defined only by tautology: he is the reader who prefers comedy, or ‘ferocious banter’, to elegy, or the celebration of departed glories. Who ...

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