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This article is taken from PN Review 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 2019.

on Geoffrey Hill’s Baruch
‘How do I think I rate?’
Jeffrey Wainwright
Geoffrey Hill, The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin,
edited by Kenneth Haynes (OUP), 160pp, £20


In a parenthesis Geoffrey Hill remarks that his book-length new poem, The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin, is ‘nothing if not eclectic’ (#108). As he might say himself ‘you can say that again’. Its 271 sections comprise a hectic carousel of recurring subjects, persons, voices, dictions learned and vernacular, carried within prose­poems whose paragraphs are of varied lengths. Within a page he moves from ‘A tide-race of young frogs migrating, an exodus, for ten minutes or thereabouts / Pond, back road, moist air’ to the Book of Baruch, ‘Senator Yeats’s’ ‘Leda and the Swan’, Stanley Spencer’s painting Resurrection, Port Glasgow, ‘the late Referendum’ and the Clydeside of Jimmy Reid. The next, lengthy, section treats Holbein’s ‘Dance of Death’ (#110). It was composed in the last few years and months of Hill’s life and its faithful editing by Kenneth Haynes is itself a remarkable work of scholarship.

There is of course something bewildering in such switches. There is a temptation to try to find a rational scheme which will haul all this content of the poet’s mind into a sensible shape, that we might with Aristotle, exert ‘the mind’s power to make disparates cohere’ (#47). But, as here half-apologetically, Hill reminds us that this is a poem, not a treatise that he is writing:
If this is going to be your testament best press on with it.
                                                          Trust that its true
    being is song. ...


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