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This article is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

Geoffrey Hill: The Triumph of Love Jeffrey Wainwright

'Although salvation may not lie in literature, nevertheless, there is and has been a way to salvation there for many.' (Petrarch)

Whose lives are hidden in God? Whose?
Who can now tell what was taken, or where,
or how, or whether it was received:
how ditched, divested, clamped, sifted, over-
laid, raked over, grassed over, spread around,
rotted down with leafmould, accepted
as civic concrete, reinforceable
base cinderblocks:
tipped into Danube, Rhine, Vistula, dredged up
with the Baltic and the Pontic sludge:
                                                            (XIII)

There are many themes in The Triumph of Love - those the poet 'has buzzed, droned, / round a half-dozen topics (fewer surely?) / for almost fifty years' - but in my reading the poem is dominated by Hill's effort to grapple with, honour, and in some sense do justice by all these unlived and unliveable lives - 'the brute mass and detail of the world' (LXX). Given the title, this effort might be expected to seek to discover whether the meanings gathered around the term 'Love' can be pitted against this world, is there a sense in which it could be said to 'triumph'? If so it will not be of the manner Jonson cultivates in 'Her Triumph' from his sportive sequence 'A Celebration of Charis': 'See the chariot at hand here of Love / Wherein my lady rideth!' The baleful cast of Hill's poem seems closer to Shelley whose ...


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