The Strongest Voice; Geoffrey Hill Is More Than a Poet's Poet. He Is the Finest English Writer Alive

By Sexton, David | The Evening Standard (London, England), September 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Strongest Voice; Geoffrey Hill Is More Than a Poet's Poet. He Is the Finest English Writer Alive


Sexton, David, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: DAVID SEXTON

THE biennial David Cohen British Literature Prize for a lifetime's achievement is the most distinguished award for a writer in this country.

The recipients so far have only added to its status: Harold Pinter, VS Naipaul, Doris Lessing, William Trevor and Muriel Spark. There is another author who deserves to be added to this roster: Geoffrey Hill.

It is the opinion of a former literary editor of this paper, A.N. Wilson, that "Geoffrey Hill is probably the best writer alive, in prose or rhyme, in the English language." Plenty of lesser men have said as much.

George Steiner has rated Hill as "among our finest poets", Harold Bloom has called him "the strongest British poet now alive", and Christopher Ricks, a long-term admirer, judged him "the best poet now writing in England", even before Philip Larkin's death.

Yet Hill remains a poet's poet, reputed too obscure for a wide audience. One hapless anthologist, Kenneth Allott, included him in a book of contemporary verse with the comment that he understood him "only in the sense that cats and dogs may be said to understand human conversations".

Certainly Hill has always made high demands on his readers. He disdains "the poem as an anecdote, where language has a deft, satisfactory, empirical function, inoffensively conveying the gist of an interesting experience", which neatly disposes of nearly all his contemporaries. Instead, for Hill, "the language is the situation".

"In handling the English language the poet makes an act of recognition that etymology is history. The history of the creation and debasement of words is a paradigm of the loss of the kingdom of innocence and original justice. If we can accept that image to any degree, then it seems to me we can simultaneously accept the genuine possibility of consolation in art and be sceptical about the possibility of ultimate consolation."

Geoffrey Hill was born in Bromsgrove in Worcestershire in 1932, an only child, the son of a police constable. At the age of eight, he witnessed the Nazi bombing of Coventry; all of his work has been strongly marked by a sense of the violence in European history.

"There is no bloodless myth will hold," he says in the first of his adult poems, Genesis.

After reading English at Oxford, Hill taught at Leeds, then Cambridge and, for the past 14 years, in Boston, Massachusetts. He publishedhis first collection, For The Unfallen in 1959, and his second, King Log, nine years later. For most of his career, he has been a costive writer, publishing little, always angrily fending off anticipated criticism. He has recently said that he believes it was an "undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder" that gave him such a "terror of utterance".

Since 1992, his condition has been treated with drugs and he has been much more fluently productive, issuing four volumes of poetry in the past six years, Canaan, The Triumph of Love, Speech! Speech!, and now, The Orchards of Syon. Some of Hill's admirers have felt his recent work to be inferior to his best - but The Orchards of Syon will change this. Published last week, it is, unmistakeably, a masterpiece.

Consisting of 72 sections of 24 lines each, the poem takes its title from "The Orcherd of Syon", an early 15th century translation of The Dialogue by St Catherine of Siena, originally made for the nuns at the monastery of Syon in Barking. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Strongest Voice; Geoffrey Hill Is More Than a Poet's Poet. He Is the Finest English Writer Alive
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.