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This article is taken from PN Review 39, Volume 11 Number 1, July - August 1984.

C.H. Sisson Geoffrey Hill

The text of a lecture delivered in the Department of English, University of Bristol, March 1980, during the author's tenure of the Churchill Fellowship.

Charles Sisson is a writer who has a keen engagement with, but no commitment to, politics. In saying this I try not only to describe his position but also to evoke his tone. 'Commitment', in its generally-accepted sense, is not a term that would receive his deference. The reasons for this are plain. 'Commitment' is not merely a word; it is a stance, an ethos even. And the stance is not one that attracts him; the ethos is alien to him. And yet if we were simply to suppose that a man who does not espouse commitment must of necessity be uncommitted, some study of Sisson's literary and political writings would instruct us otherwise. He has his style; and the style is a compounding of the direct and the oblique. He has observed that Richard Crashaw's was 'a mind in search of artifices to protect itself against its own passions, (Collected Essays, 470). It must be said at once that this does not describe Sisson's own style of experience or style of utterance. He seems to me one of the least self-protective of poets, unconcerned with, even disdainful of, artifice, if by artifice is meant creation of personae, or the deployment of rhetorical eloquence as a distancing or subliming medium. In the climate of our age, this ought to make him unremarkable but ...

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