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This article is taken from PN Review 234, Volume 43 Number 4, March - April 2017.

Yeats, Landor, Hill & An Unwritten Book

'A sad and angry consolation'
Peter McDonald
WHEN WE THINK ABOUT the recently dead, there is often regret about what we failed to say to them, and about the conversations we never got around to having. But at the service in Oxford in October 2016 in memory of Geoffrey Hill, my own thoughts wandered towards the things I had never managed to write – such thoughts being (I knew) singularly inappropriate to the occasion.

In the early 2000s, when I first (and very fearfully) started to be in regular contact with Hill, I felt that I might be making a start on a new book, one about anger in literature. It would be about dramatic anger, in the unstable reactor cores for the nuclear power of plays like King Lear and Othello; about the uncontrollable and yet somehow controlled and directed anger in Dryden, in Swift and in Pope; and about the slow diminution of authorial anger in poetry from the nineteenth century onwards, to the point where it had become one of the least respectable of emotions in any self-respecting work. I never wrote the book, and one of the many reasons for this failure was that I had become too caught up in my own subject – too angry about too much – with the result that I was unable to work through the topic of anger in any useful way. I thought then (and, in a way, think now) that it might have been a good book, but I was no longer the person to write it – if indeed I had ever been.

There was another, ...

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