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This report is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

Sir Geoffrey Hill Rowan Williams
The following sermon was delivered at the funeral of Sir Geoffrey Hill at the Chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge on 25 July 2016.

                                         *

VERY WELL, you shall redirect the pain –
May already have worked this – towards paean.
      Nothing bereaves
      Precisely; yet
      Lost springs of loves
      Turn things about
      Upon the stiff axis
      Geared by bow staves      [Clavics 25, p.    35]


‘A trimmed rod of wood’, says the definition, ‘to be made into a bow.’ Loss is ‘imprecise’, nothing serious, grievous, in our humanity allows us the satisfaction of being exact, wrapping it all up. What we do with bereavement is to find words that ‘turn things about’, labouring at a vehicle where the tension and slowness are in fact building towards an arrow flight.

So today, sitting with our ‘imprecise’ grief, the loss we can’t turn into anything finished and impressive, we listen to Geoffrey’s words, in one context after another, burrowing, shouldering, worrying their way towards some redirection of pain. He had characteristically austere things to say about the self-delusions of poets. In a notable essay on ‘Language, Suffering, Silence’ (Collected Critical Writings, pp. 394–406) he conducts several swordfights simultaneously (it is one of the exhausting and exhilarating features of his best critical writing that you have to remember in pretty well every sentence just how many people he is arguing with) – with Arnold, Auden, Milosz, Yeats, all to do with what poetry is meant to ...
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