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This article is taken from PN Review 183, Volume 35 Number 1, September - October 2008.

The Late Flowering of Geoffrey Hill David Gervais

a spectral people
raking among the ash;
its freedom a lost haul
of entailed riches
                                ('Dark-Land')


In choosing to take on Hill's poetry as a whole I make no assumption that it has to be seen as a development or a progress. If the recent books are its crown, as many readers seem to think, the case for them still has to be argued out. Right from the start, his poetry has been striking for a vivid precision that reminds one of stained glass or a Book of Hours - imagery of an ineluctable clarity that yet has an unearthly beauty to it. It would sell such imagery short to see it as just a stage on the way to something else. The question is rather how poems as 'immaculate' as Hill's early ones (to use Michael Longley's apt word) could be developed at all. This is not to imply that all Hill's books are similar or that some of them don't stand out as rather different from the others (for instance, Speech! Speech!, parts of Tenebrae and the Péguy sequence) but, whatever their subject-matter, they possess an unusual degree of artistic consistency. However we interpret their overall trajectory we are clearly in the hands of a writer who has a very clear idea of where he is going to and how to get there. What is rare in him is that this is not simply ...


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