Poetry

By Scammell, William | The Independent (London, England), February 16, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Poetry


Scammell, William, The Independent (London, England)


2 Canaan by Geoffrey Hill, Penguin pounds 7.99. Hill is about as far from contemporary taste as you can get, and that's the way he likes it. Like Lowell's early Miltonics ("The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket"), or the mystics and theologians who continue to hold his fascination, he is never happier than when gazing down at the multitude, and himself, from a great height.

Some regard him as England's greatest living poet. Others, like Tom Paulin, sniff a reactionary Anglicanism - religious and political - and put the boot in, finding the lofty moral logic-chopping inhumane. "Kitsch feudalism", says Paulin, "archaic humanist cop-out", "grisly historical voyeurism . . . ripped off from Eliot", "stagnant vowel-music", "ye olde England" terminally buried in "visionary mustiness" and a mystic nationalism redolent of Enoch Powell.

This is good knockabout stuff, a proper antidote to the more prissy and pious of Hill's (largely academic) admirers, and I have a good deal of sympathy with its drift, but it leaves out Hill's very real accomplishments as a recording angel of our life and times. "For reading, I can recommend the Fathers," says an early poem: "Christ, what a pantomime!" "Tragedy has all under regard" says another. "To bite nothings to the bone" says a third, addressed to the spirit of Wordsworth: "Speech from the ice, the clear-obscure; / The tongue broody in the jaw / O Lakes, Lakes! / O Sentiment upon the rocks!" That last pun is typical of the grim set of Hill's jaw, and so are the multiple ironies of "The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy", which must rate as one of the best long English poems of recent years, a penetrating commentary on the "greed and disaffection" that are "ingrained" in the "ranklings of the mind" of late-modern England. Canaan continues to march to the tunes of Yeats and Eliot (though in a new and airy prosody), to put its agonised secular faith in high diction, savage antinomies, and Hill's long tussle with spirituality: "praise and lament / praise and lament/ what do you mean", as a poem called "Cycle" puts it. Another, to William Cobbett, asserts: "I say it is not faithless / to stand without faith, keeping open / vigil at the site".

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.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
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.

Cited article

Poetry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
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?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
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.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

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.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?