Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

An Uphill Struggle to the Heights

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

An Uphill Struggle to the Heights

Article excerpt


Geoffrey Hill: Collected Critical Writings edited by kenneth Haynes(Oxford, [pounds sterling]25) GEOFFREY Hill is a struggle. No living English poet is praised sohighly. No poet of his renown has fewer readers or less recognition.

His admirers lament and grumble, but aren't entirely baffled. Yes, we believe,Hill's poetry, sequences like Funeral Music and Mercian Hymns, will be alivewhen Ted Hughes's and Seamus Heaney's are loam. But meanwhile, we don't deny hecan be difficultand the recent stuff, what the hell's that about? Hill also writes as a critic.His Collected Critical Writings include three previously published collections,plus two new ones. But if you expect prose to be more straightforward thanpoetry, Hill's isn't. He's a critic of unequalled density and intensity. Youhave to read hard, slowly and probably several times. When you have, I thinkit's clear that some of the essays hereOur Word is Our Bond, sayare profound meditations on the ethics of writing that any writer should try toknow by heart.

The 30-odd pieces dwell on a range of lit-crit subjects: Dryden, Hopkins,Eliot, Bible-translation, the Oxford English Dictionary itself. But each one isalso a statement of Hill's own poetic credo. Language is not a means ofcommunication or expression. It is a thoroughly intractable medium.

Every word we have is loaded, invested with the history of the ways it has beenemployed, the battles it has taken part in.

Words (he quotes Coleridge) are "LIVING POWERS". They exert a gravitationalpull, sway us in directions we might not wish to go.

Those who imagine they are using words will find they're being used by them."We are all overcome, at some time or another, by a kind of force in the natureof language itself". For the poet, "irredeemable error in the very substanceand texture of one's craft and pride". …

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