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This review is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

GESTURES OF SOLIDARITY GEOFFREY HILL, Canaan (Penguin)

Shortly before the release of Canaan, Penguin published a new, revised, edition of Hill's version of Ibsen's Brand. In the preface, Hill makes some claims for his version, and poetry in general, which may form the rationale for the prophetic role he aspires to in Canaan. Hill says that if he has succeeded:

there will be no need for either director or actors to project feeling, empathy, into the verse; it will not be necessary for anyone to practise getting 'inside' a character; no one will need to do background research. The verse itself is at once character and enactment; is itself both absolute will and contingency... I can envisage a heroic performance of this version in a puppet-theatre, always provided that these responsible for speaking the verse follow the tradition and discipline to which I have here paid tribute.

Although Hill's version of Brand is undeniably dramatic, these comments fail to do justice to the totality of the theatrical experience. However, they do illustrate most forcibly the depth of Hill's belief in the power of poetry. It is 'at once character and enactment... both absolute will and contingency'. In 'Our Word is our Bond', Hill argued that 'modern poetry... yearns for this sense of identity between saying and doing'. There he lamented that poets possessed no equivalent for the 'hereby' by which judicial sentences become performative utterances. Now he asserts that verse itself, when executed with discipline and from within a tradition, ...


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