Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Geoffrey Hill - the Shiver

I never know quite what to say about poetry; so much for a Cambridge English degree. What I like seems to go through two phases - an initial fondness which may go no further, but, if it does, I suddenly find myself utterly stricken. In neither phase am I capable of explaining my enthusiasm. I have just moved to phase two with Geoffrey Hill. It happened when I was killing time between events at the Oxford Literary Festival. I idly read In Ipsley Church Lane - it's in three parts but I can only find the first online. Fondness was replaced by the authentic shiver and I read again, and again. I have now read the three poems at least twenty times and it's still not enough. Don't ask me why. Well, I will say 'feckless grief' is at the heart of the matter, the impossibility of consolation, that and the great scream of things.


  1. A timid Xian girl once asked me why i liked TS Eliot, what was so great about him. She liked things like CS Lewis. i sort of floundered about great poetry then gave up - it's like explaining why you like eating good food or wearing tweed, people either get it or they don't.

    i think you can, at most, talk about technical points, for example in the Hill poem you cite "the soot is on them" hits you with its unexpectedly colloquial "is on them" but it still tingles with what i think Wallace Stevens might call 'nobility'; then in the line "I am as one coarsened by feckless grief", the "I am as one" has a grand, Romantic feel to it, which is then slowed by the very unRomantic "coarsened", and then "feckless" comes out of nowhere as a perfect word, unusual and familiar, with its hints of "reckless", the right word to qualify the old style "grief".

    He seems to embed the grand style within the everyday, set in minute observation ("like burnt cauliflower") and an old man's practiced grasp on language, like late Yeats. The two become one, the high style ("rage shall move somnolent yet unappeased") and the conversational. It makes me think of the King James Bible - i wonder if people DID actually talk more like this, when it was so part of their lives? You couldn't contrive this meeting, you either think and speak like this or you don't.

  2. I like the poem and also Bryan's "scream of things."

  3. I respect Hill, and have astonished by some of his images.

    Why am I always disappointed by the rhythm?

  4. Because you have been conditioned by old poetry to want something completer and smoother.

  5. How do you know?