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This article is taken from PN Review 202, Volume 38 Number 2, November - December 2011.

Variant Editions of Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns Thomas Day
The text of Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns reprinted in full in Hill’s 2006 Penguin Selected Poems bears a strange unlikeness to the poem as it appears in the original André Deutsch pamphlet of 1971, and then again in Somewhere Is Such a Kingdom: Poems 1952–1971 (Boston, 1975) and the Penguin Collected Poems of 1985. Where the earlier books exactly replicate the lineation of the original pamphlet, the 2006 version rejigs the text by packing in more words per line, thus altering the words that begin and/or end any given line, as well the spatial positioning of those in between. Selected Poems ostensibly observes the distinctive shape of Mercian Hymns’ ‘versets of rhythmical prose’, as Hill characterised the form in his interview with John Haffenden:1 short paragraphs justified at both margins, with the first line of each ‘outdented’, slightly overhanging the left margin – like the effigy on Offa’s coins as described in hymn XIII, at once ‘kempt and jutting’. But it’s as if the liquid has set differently in the mould. So, to take an instance at random, the first lines of hymn XXIII in the original read
original extract shown as an image to show exact typography
while Selected Poems has
original extract shown as an image to show exact typography
This means that while the original verset runs to six (or five and a half) lines, concluding ...


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