Saturday, July 2, 2016

Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016)

From Mercian Hymns (1971).

And: “What / ought a poem to be? Answer, a sad / and angry consolation”: from CXLVIII, The Triumph of Love (1998).

Long ago, as an undergrad, I figured out that the best way to read Geoffrey Hill is with an Oxford English Dictionary close by. I cannot think of another poet whose work brings me to a closer consideration of words as embodiments of history.

Here are obituaries from The Guardian and The New York Times . (Notice the volume of the OED in the portrait. Hill had the no-magnifying-glass-needed edition of the OED at home, as a photograph published with this interview shows.)

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[Like The Waste Land , Mercian Hymns has notes. XXV has more of them than any other poem in the sequence:

XXV: ‘the eightieth letter of Fors Clavigera’. See The Works of John Ruskin, London (1903-1912), XXIX, pp. 170-180.

‘darg’: ‘a day’s work, the task of a day . . .’ (O.E.D.). Ruskin employs the word, here and elsewhere.

‘quick forge’: see W. Shakespeare, Henry V , V, Chorus, 23. The phrase requires acknowledgement but the source has no bearing on the poem.

‘wire’: I seem not to have been strictly accurate. Hand-made nails were made from rods. Wire was used for the ‘French nails’ made by machine. But: ‘wire’ = ‘metal wrought into the form of a slender rod or thread’ (O.E.D.).
Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain (1871-1884), by John Ruskin, written to be a “continual challenger to the supporters of and apologists for a capitalist economy.” has the text. Letter LXXX (July 16, 1877), begins on page 83.]

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