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This review is taken from PN Review 63, Volume 15 Number 1, September - October 1988.

ORACULAR SOUNDINGS Vincent Sherry, The Uncommon Tongue: The Poetry and Criticism of Geoffrey Hill (The University of Michigan Press)

As he has said of Yeats, Geoffrey Hill is a poet who hears 'words in depth', and therefore sounds 'history and morality in depth'. Consequently Vincent Sherry's predominant concern in The Uncommon Tongue with technical matters offers far more than probings of one 'student of the etymological dictionary' by another. By listening closely to Hill's semantic and acoustic resonances, and by teasing out the multiple meanings which his words evoke, Sherry also explores his sounding of history and morality. The result is a critical book which actually gets inside the workings of an extremely subtle, sensual yet astringent poetic intelligence. It is also a book whose invaluable detailed discussions of individual poems will be gratefully received by readers who question some of its emphases. If in reading it I was, as well as frequently enlightened, sometimes irritated, occasionally angered, and quite often disturbed, that is another measure of its fidelity to a poet who works on borders of dangerous tension, between poetry and history, and poetry and theology.

Sherry stresses Hill's development, from the majority of poems in For the Unfallen to The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy, of a poetry that is antagonistic to the Movement's 'civil and realist code'. He follows Hill's 'steady pull away from the poet-civis toward the poet-vates', and his growth as 'a verbal magician, a nominalist using the word as a medium of protean significance'. In terms of his magnetic locus, Hill is seen 'reversing the usual associations of ...


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