Acceptable Words: Essays on the Poetry of Geoffrey Hill
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Geoffrey Hill has said that some great poetry 'recognises that words fail us'. These essays explore Hill's struggle over fifty years with the recalcitrance of language. This book seeks to show how all his work is marked by the quest for the right pitch of utterance whether it is sorrowing, angry, satiric or erotic. It shows how Hill's words are never lightly 'acceptable' but an ethical act, how he seeks out words he can stand by - words that are 'getting it right'.
This book is the most comprehensive and up-to-date critical work on Geoffrey Hill so far, covering all his work up to ‘Scenes from Comus’ (2005), as well as some poems yet to appear in book form. It aims to contribute something to the understanding of his poetry among those who have followed it for many years and students and other readers encountering this major poet for the first time.
destruction of this ideal in a locust-like falling upon that land, is compounded by the tortuous Calvinistic confusion of worldly greed and lust for the wrath of an implacable God, ‘writhing over the rich scene’, so that Shiloh is seeking God in this His natural filth, voyeur of sacrifice, a slow Bloody unearthing of the God-in-us. Their Paradise was a fallen world, and seeking evidence of their own election, God within them, they created Hell. As in that tumultuous poem which opens Hill’s
Rwanda as a chopping preoccupation with better/worse, same/different from the ‘existing record’ or ‘standard’. It is in language, specifically the currency of public discourse, that Hill has the greatest task in his ‘embattling’ of virtue and vice. But to use poetry as rhetoric in the classical sense depends upon the existence of a forum in which to be heard, and upon a mode of discourse sharing common ground. This is precisely what the poem cannot lay claim to, and this in turn becomes one of
The rampant soliloquies and addresses to persons known and unknown of the trilogy, with their murmurings, sudden hectorings, abrupt questions, truculent and apologetic by turns, often interrupted by noises off, drives fascinatingly near the obsessional quality of those bemused monologists sometimes encountered on the top deck of a bus. He risks that it might very well be ‘the fool’s confession’. In his essay ‘Keeping to the Middle Way’, Hill compares the ostensible manner of Burton’s Anatomy
1994), p. 64. 6 Agenda, Vol. 32 No. 2, Summer 1994, p. 12. 7 Quoted in Ger van Roon, German Resistance to Hitler: Count von Moltke and the Kreisau Circle, 1967, (London, 1971), p. 54. 8 Hermann Graml, ‘Resistance Thinking on Foreign Policy’, in Graml et al., The German Resistance to Hitler, 1966, (London, 1970), p. 31. 9 Gillian Rose, Love’s Work, (London, 1995), p. 116. 10 Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, (Cambridge, 1986), p.
so – seems more and more evident in the light of the work since. Here, at the outset of section 4 of The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy, is some of the portrait, and it includes two phrases close to those Hill uses as titles for his books of essays: This world is different, belongs to them – the lords of limit and of contumely. It matters little whether you go tamely or with rage and defiance to your doom. This is your enemies’ country which they took in the small hours an age before