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This item is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

Letters from William S. Milne and Donald Davie
Sir: Those values Donald Davie mentions in his editorial (PNR 34) certainly exist, but are they found in Geoffrey Hill's The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy? At the best, one might say, only obliquely.

The problem is this: 'The ambiguities and scruples seem to reside in the object meditated upon' (Hill's own words, in an interview with John Haffenden, in Quarto, March 1981, p. 21). So, though there be patriotism and bravery in Péguy's life, there is also-more complicatedly-mystery and charity too.

In the same interview Hill said: 'It seems to me that in poetry . . . one is trying to trace the tracks left by human beings, which is full of false directions and self-pity and nostalgia as well as lust, wrath, greed and pride.' Such an 'oxymoronic' interpretation of experience is evident enough in Hill's new poem, where Charles Péguy is representative of 'the inevitable feelings of love and hate which any man or woman must feel for the patria (Hill's words, in the same interview, p. 21).
London SW 18


The letters in PNR 35 from Jeffrey Wainwright and Alan Massey do not merit a reply from me, though I confess I expected some reader would have protested at some of their more offensive assertions, for instance Wainwright's crediting the IRA sneak-and-run bombers with 'valour'. And surely someone, I thought, would want to ask Massey what he expects of those of our fellow-citizens who are servicemen, since he claims to speak for a consensus that 'has come to look upon "patriotism" and "martial valour" as highly undesirable qualities'-in serving soldiers, presumably, as well as in civilians. Sometimes I think PNR readers live in cloud-cuckoo-land. Wainwright for his part affects to believe that no one enlists unless compelled to it by economic necessity. -Can it be that neither Wainwright nor Massey has ever met a single soldier, sailor or airman?

I write only because if I don't my silence may be interpreted as shamefaced. As usual the issue can be narrowed to the meaning of one word. Geoffrey Hill's purpose, I proposed, in his Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy, was 'the celebration of two values: patriotism, and martial valour'. The word is 'celebration'. In Wainwright's mind, for something to be 'celebrated' means that it be 'drummed and trumpeted'; and Massey thinks that celebration is out of the question since 'the prevailing emotional tone of Geoffrey Hill's poem is sadness.' The italics are Massey's, to underscore his confidence that celebration and sadness are incompatible. What does he think we do, and in what spirit, when we 'celebrate' Good Friday? But no doubt the reference to a specifically Christian occasion will only confirm Wainwright in his assurance that my reading of the poem is 'ideological'.

This item is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

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