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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

MAKING SENSE OF THE ALPS GEOFFREY HILL, The Orchards of Syon (Counterpoint) $24.00

Blood, sacrifice and grace have long been among Geoffrey Hill's abiding themes. A comment on Charles Péguy, the French Catholic poet he has celebrated in a long sequence, gives a clue to the paradoxical yearnings of this highly religious poet: 'he had [...] rediscovered the solitary ardours of faith but not the consolations of religious practice.'

Hill's poetry would not exist if he could be satisfied with the practices of communal liturgy. Instead, community can only be achieved through repeated meetings between poet and reader, a repetitive ritual enforced by the denseness and concentration of his language in the earlier work. The determined reader had no choice but to implicate himself in Hill's antinomies as he became tangled in their knotted ambiguity. But now that the tightly muscled quatrains have been abandoned, what ritual remains? How can the reader begin to get a purchase on Hill's more recent writing?

There are continuities. Although the form has changed, long sequences are not in themselves a recent development for Hill. Mercian Hymns must be the closest touchpoint to this new book; its prose chunks bear the nearest resemblance to the freer verse Hill now uses. The Mercian Hymns sequence also tended to conflate present experience and mythical history, a tendency which is taken to new levels in The Orchards of Syon. The increased introduction of the paraphernalia of contemporary culture strikes deliberately jarring notes, jolting us from psychiatric treatment to Shakespeare to scripture to catchy gospel numbers: ...


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