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This report is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

The Long Home Lawrence Sail

It is Ennius, best known for his Annals, who provides the first of two epigraphs for Geoffrey Hill's Speech! Speech! (Penguin, 2000) - AT TUBA TERRIBILI SONITU TARATANTARA DIXIT ('And the trumpet in terrible tones went taratantara'). The second, from Günter Grass, reinforces a sense of finality as well as theatre: VORHANG, BEVOR DU DEN BEIFALL BEGREIFST ('Curtain, before you comprehend the applause'). Taken together, they introduce the perspectives of mortality and oblivion which are two amongst many presences in Hill's 'theatre of voices', to use his own phrase from the poem. From time to time they surface explicitly, whether as 'simple bio-degradation, a slather/of half-rotted black willow leaves/at the lake's edge', or in the context of the contemporary world and its values:

POSTERITY | how daring! Waste of effort?
You may conclude so. I do not
so understand it. Yoú may
write this off | but it shall not be read so.

Or the subject becomes part of a direction to an actor: 'Act through a few poor mime faces; pose late/reflexion. As not unreflecting try/posterity.' Ennius is a particularly appropriate choice for an opening shot, when it comes to durability: born in Calabria in 239 BC, he was the author of tragedies, comedies and satires, as well as the Annals, to which he devoted the last fifteen years of his life, and which he began with a claim that he was Homer reincarnated - a truth revealed to ...

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