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This article is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

Geoffrey Hill's Péguy C.H. Sisson

How does it happen that the most fastiduous of contemporary poets, the meticulous author of slim volumes, comes to celebrate one whose work, in prose and verse, is strung out over thousands of pages, prophesying, declaiming, denouncing, and as it were discovering as it goes along where it is going? On the face of it, no two writers could be less alike than Geoffrey Hill and Charles Péguy, in spite of the formal resemblance between their quatrains, the one using the classic French alexandrine and the other the classic English pentameter. Péguy fires off his rounds like an artillery officer trying his distances, now beyond his target, now short of it, and when he has his range exactly he hardly notices it but goes on firing, it may be for pages, in an approximate and still tentative way. It is magnificent, if in the end a little tiring, like war itself. What is there in this for the elegant Geoffrey Hill?

It is not a matter of the way the quatrains are set up, we may be sure of that. The reader must look to the four hundred lines of The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy for his answer. Some rather parsimonious indications are given in the two pages of prose with which the volume concludes. 'Péguy . . .' says Hill, 'is one of the great souls, one of the great prophetic intelligences of our century.' Great souls are a dangerous subject. There is ...

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