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This review is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

SELF AND LOVE GEOFFREY HILL , Without Title (Penguin) £ 9.99

'O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distem pered appetite.' Without Title, it seems, must go without review - and the present writer is well aware of his vulnerability in this respect. To date, the reception of Hill's most recent volume has followed what is now a well-established pattern: a long run-up, rehearsing some details of Hill's poetic life of more than fifty years; a concession, variously grudging or grateful, of his greatness; and finally a gobbet from the volume under consideration sacrificed in celebration of Hill as an English nature poet. But English? Born in a part of England bordering Wales and proud of his Welsh heritage, writing from Boston in English, French, Latin, German, Hebrew, Italian ('Wish I could get my Greek fixed') and writing to or about, amongst others, Karl Rahner, Lucien Richard, Stanley Rosen, Jimi Hendrix, Cesare Pavese, Eugenio Montale and Hart Crane, Hill requires radical surgery to his many 'unwanted bits' before he can be celebrated as 'Johnny English'. And a nature poet? Specimens of Hill's English landscapes need careful searching and cleansing to pre-vent their straying abroad and to prevent the encroachment - would Hill's self-proclaimed admirers say 'contamination'? - of artifice ('More than ever I see through painters' eyes'), of human nature and, pre-eminently, of the poet's idiosyncratic, provocative, unpredictable self.

In some ways, however, Hill has recently given legitimacy to this approach by his commentators: on 1 February, before a large audience in the Sheldonian ...


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