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Dîpti Saravanamuttu

Some Aspects of the Tetragrammaton:

on Geoffrey Hill

Section 1

Poets’ attitudes to poetry range from it being the most intelligent thing to do in this world, to what can be done with one hand tied behind the back. To Universal acclaim until someone notices the tied hand is someone else. Hill writes as though he could obliterate his physical body to understand and finally say this. When he mingles images of what delights with what is nauseating or distasteful, it tends to bring us back to our senses. Geoffrey Hill’s poetry composes a complex body of work, being over an era from the sixties to the present day. There was a fifteen year gap between what’s published in his Collected Poems (1985) and the next half of his work. This essay on the latter half of his work is situated from the perspective of having read and considered the work of the first twenty years.


Some of his work around the first years of the new millennium, namely Speech! Speech! (2000) and aspects of The Orchards of Syon (2002) are somewhat of a culture shock. They seem in places to identify the current belief that poetry is the most fashionable thing you can do. However when he writes poetry that is shallow or needlessly grandiose, it identifies what is missing with his most acute judgement. He manages to do this while still being an academic, and not surprisingly then, parodies the attitude that to espouse any humanitarian concerns is to be a spokesperson for an era of violence. I suppose it was one intelligent response to the strictures of working with poetry from within the Academy, in our time.


In the books published after his fifteen year break in writing, it would seem that violence consists in seeing benevolence and malevolence to be interchangeable and to parody, intercept or somehow think about this attitude, a charmed duty:


You have sometimes said
that I project a show more
stressful than delightful. Watch my hands
confabulate their shadowed rhetoric,
gestures of benediction; maledictions
by arrangement.

(The Orchards of Syon, Poem 1)


Hill’s Canaan (1996) is most evidently a survey of the moral and political climate of Thatcherism. Fortunately being evident is not one of Hill’s faults. His very Englishness can be a source of frustration, as the cadences and rhetorical phrasing of his poetry – his sheer eloquence – feels familiar. As though it should make instinctual sense. Yet the range of reference of the poems in Canaan, replete with local and historical knowledge of England and European history, can be like a crossword puzzle for scholars from the commonwealth. Such is the world of this book.


The Canaan of the title is never just a mythic place. The book opens out into a survey of the entire world situation at the time of the Treaty of Maastricht, and by extension of course, the role of the EEC in determining world affairs, as was to be the case. Canaan is both promised land, and land of the Philistines: what is to come and what falls short of our spirit and noblest desires, if also, the past. A past conceived of as a sort of golden age. It is a lament for an honourable history.


Canaan is the world and England, almost as Hill is himself. It is ancient Israel and the modern world-state in which the great leaders and thinkers of the past are co-opted to grace the misdemeanours of (only) the present. There is no suggestion that they may have been similarly co-opted or adapted to suit a role, within their own historical times.


However these poems are music, if you can conceive of music as rhetorical philosophy and emotional sense. Structurally, the poem titles “Dark-land”, “Mysticism and Democracy”, and “To the High Court of Parliament” recur like staves. There are three poems titled “Dark-land”, five titled “Mysticism and Democracy”, and the poems “To the High Court of Parliament”, begin, occur halfway, and end the book. They re-enforce or position the form or shape within which the other poems exist as meditations – or from which they soar away. The title of this collection could be a key to all of Hill’s poetry, describing the difficulties (“you cannot hear me or quite make me out”) as well as its felicities in a poem like “Pisgah”, the name of the mountain on which Moses dies, having seen the promised land:


the steep garden overlooks the house;
around you the cane loggias, tent-poles, trellises,
the flitter of sweet peas caught in their strings,
the scarlet runners, blossom that seems to burn
an incandescent aura towards evening.


The poem for the composer Hugh Wood (“Ritornelli”) also takes up one of the passions of this poet’s work, that of the artist as enacting a renewal of life, almost a resurrection:


exacting mercies
to rage as solace
I will have you sing

your cross of redress


Hill’s language can seem playful in its refusal to stay simple and clear. The strength of his verse derives from a sense of the historical and the day-to-day practical responsibilities of a language that is tantamount to an obsession with nuance, and with precision. Words you think you know the meaning of, or have always understood in context, upon establishing their precise definitions will prove to have two or three immensely meaningful associations for any particular poem, as for the entire book. For instance, “Dark-Land” (“Are these last things reduced … ”) manages to convey the chiaroscuro of John Constable’s paintings, the situation of the Anglican church, Jewish history, spiritual survival and its opposite, the ark of the covenant and also the idea of God-in-a-box as relating to the Church of England, in twelve lines, and concludes by epigrammatizing all that information into a reference to two biblical place-names: “Sheol if not Shiloh”.


That Hill is a difficult poet is a platitude. The poets I am most reminded of when reading him are Yeats and Eliot, and that is the most that can be said, in a way, because Hill is his own ground, with a range of cultural reference and poetic economy that makes Canaan seem the experience of reading four books of poetry rather than one. Do I hear five … ?


The history of the German people (as opposed to the history of the Nazis) is probably that of one of the injustices of the first half of the last century. Casualties sustained on the battlefields of World War One were even greater than the Allied losses in many cases. The blockade of essential food and supplies to Germany, carried out by the British Navy under Allied orders at Scapa Flow, brought unspeakable deprivation and starvation, and the situation was continued into the period between the wars. Then, the carpet-bombing of German cities by British and American warplanes in WWII was followed by a looting of art and sculpture from buildings and places of worship in a manner that was thoroughly systematic and organised; it was in fact the theft of a very civilization, in symbolic measure. Consequently we lament the end of civilization that the Nazis and the holocaust represented, but the amount of coercion and pressure with which everyone was implicated, and either forced or manipulated to act within the ethos, as it were, bears some thinking of. The fascists did an exemplary job of making themselves synonymous with Germans, in the popular consciousness of not just Britain and Europe.


“De Jure Belli Ac Pacis” is a memorial tribute to the eight men involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944. All the conspirators were either shot, or executed in the Plötzensee prison in Berlin, along with other opponents of the regime. In prison, films were made of their deaths, and they were hung from meat-hooks by piano wire. This meant they were tortured until death, essentially, as some took up to half an hour to die. It must be said that theirs was a right-wing coup, led from within the upper echelons of the party, although carried out in a spirit entirely at one with that of German nationalism. All went to their deaths with great courage. The poem cycle is no less moving for being positioned as a myth of beauty that now excuses world events that may well, or that do, fall short of the spirit of natural law. Simply, that European economic policy (which Hill mentions specifically in this context as denoted by the treaty of Maastricht) which may be Eurocentric or unfair in a global context, is positioned intellectually as the freedom deriving from the men martyred by German facism:


as now your high-strung
                                 martyred resistance serves
to consecrate the liberties of Maastricht?


That things could be judged good or bad according to their own natures, and that the values of justice and compassion are laws independent of religious opinions, are themes of this section (“in whatever fortress, on whatever foundation, … the spirit bears witness”). However as is usual with Hill, the iconography of the passion and the resurrection are entirely present here also. At a moment that is so true to this poet’s difficult vision of grace:


the theme standing proclaimed
only in its final measures –
                                                  Vexilla Regis
uplifted by Rüdiger Schleicher’s violin

(Section V)  [1]

the soul-flame, as it has stood through such ages,
ebbing, and again, lambent, replenished,
                                            in its stoup of clay.

(Section VIII)


Images of light are just as firmly associated with what is dark as much as what is enduring. As is apparent in the quotes which follow, these images are present in ways that mean both sturdy and perennial, as well as able to seem to be able to change form. There are endless words for light in this book. Images of what shines like light, but also that which is reflected, broken up and perhaps seen as irrecoverable, even as it is spoken for – again:


shale of crunched shellac

(Section VII)

dittander and black saltwort that are found
flourishing on the midland brine

(“Mysticism and Democracy”)

None the less amazing: Barry’s and Pugin’s grand
dark-lantern above the incumbent Thames.

Who can now speak for despoiled merit,
                                 the fouled catchments of Demos,
as “thy” high lamp presides with sovereign
equity, over against us, across this
densely reflective, long-drawn, procession of waters?”

(“To the High Court of Parliament”)


If the longing for the creation of a new world is represented by the great hymn of resurrection, the Vexilla Regis: by what scars and absences do we fall short or become silenced by the extent of contemporary hatreds?


The Triumph of Love (1998) is a meditation on suffering, and the turning of the cosmic wheel towards justice. Or toward someone or other’s ideal of justice. Even perhaps, toward some new understanding of in what justice itself could inhere. It is possible to feel rather depressed on realising this, as though grieving Hill’s perversity in wanting to write poetry about it. Hill does so in the context of European intellectual history – the ideas of his poetic subjects – while conveying their circumstances of personal pain. A hundred and fifty poems that relate to the nature of self-sacrifice, in a style that combines flashes of absolute clarity with a sort of arcane grammar of the lives of saints and of Hill’s heroes.


Ignorance time-honoured; and Justice running
widdershins with a dagger of lath.


Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s mark:
Mosaic statute, to which Ruskin was steadfast.

Ruskin’s wedded
incapacity, for which he has been scourged
many times with derision, does not
render his vision blind, or his suffering
impotent. Fellow-labouring master-
servant of Fors Clavigera, to us he appears
some half-fabulous field-ditcher who prised
up, from a stone-wedged hedge-root, the lost
amazing crown.



These poems are a biography of love. The sequence begins and ends with the same, almost identical line “Sun-blazed, over Romsley, a livid rain-scarp”. The substitution of “the” for “a” in the book’s final line has the effect of uniting the past and the west-midlands legend of the murdered boy-king, St Kenelm, with the labours of scholarship, political activism and/or poetry. This minute change takes the meaning of the line out of the local and the personal, into a more generalized dimension. They are not dark poems, although the general tenor of the lives that figure in The Triumph of Love could best be described by invoking a sixteenth and seventeenth century style of painting known as tenebrism: an overall dark or gloomy tone that is alleviated and illuminated by patches of dramatic light.


The showing forth of truth, of a delight coming into light, is a positive force, one would have to say, that is continued from Canaan, as in poem LV of The Triumph of Love, in honour and praise of the Incarnation as well as the Shroud of Turin:


Virgine bella – it is here that I require
a canzone of some substance. There are sound
precedents for this, of a plain eloquence
which would be perfect. …

Nor is language, now, what it once was
even in – wait a tick – nineteen hundred and forty-
five of the common era, when your blast-scarred face
appeared staring, seemingly in disbelief,
shocked beyond recollection, unable to recognize
the mighty and the tender salutations
that slowly, with innumerable false starts, the ages
had put together for your glory
in words and in the harmonies of stone.


Most of Geoffrey Hill’s verse has a high seriousness, a grandly formal tone and philosophical preoccupations such as the responsibilities of working with language even when it enacts the opposite of formality or ethics. The ethical dimensions of writing poetry that is also about history is characteristic of him. As well of course, Hill is above all a religious poet: struggling with words becomes the struggle with conscience, in many of the layered, alliterative poems of his work up to 1985. The Triumph of Love departs from this in that it employs a mixture of colloquial and more formal-sounding rhetoric. I suspect this is because, while Hill writes directly out of his feelings, it is never directly about them. There are these lines on love in Canaan:


Rosa sericea: its red
blooded with amber
each lit and holy grain
the sun
makes much of
as of all our shadows –

                                 “Of Coming into Being
                                     And Passing Away
                                     To Eileen Ireland”


The more vernacular diction in The Triumph of Love could reflect the greater degree of self-molestation about his own aesthetics (the book after all being partly about suffering, which for Hill, as for many, could include the totality of the creative process).


Accordingly, Hill has three critics in this book. Three, the number of Job’s comforters – who are not comforters – but who berate him for his pride. Hill’s critics are Croker, McSikker and O’Shem. Croker always says Hill defected – was absent from some struggle or natural disaster (Harvard political journals, the 1966 flooding of Florence by the river Arno, when priceless art treasures were damaged, etc.) (Poems CXXVIII and CXXV). McSikker accuses him of pedantry, bombast and obscurity – of caulking the seams of his poetry – although Hill describes it better (caulk on caulk – of liquid eraser, illegible, overwrought, / more like psoriasis or scabies than / genuine inspiration).McSikker also mistakes Hill’s paradoxes for the modern inelegance of thinking in dualisms:


All things by that argument are bound
to the nature of disordinance (eat
shit, McSikker). Judgement is forever
divided, in two minds, over the broken
span of consequence: richly deserved: how can
our witty sorrows try the frame of such
unsecured security – nothing between
election and reprobation, except vertigo



O’Shem is naturally everything that Hill detests, including occasionally himself: “even our foes / further us, though against their will and purpose / (up / yours, O’Shem)”.


Speech! Speech! is Geoffrey Hill’s ninth book, and a sort of tour-de-force of what it is possible to do, given social sanction. The back cover of this book is filled with laudatory quotes from distinguished critics including Harold Bloom, so I began expecting another work of learned ethical speculation and philosophy, if grace and skill with words could bear those up. Like the previous book, only more so, Speech! Speech! is a good example of the interface of philosophy with the internet – one learns a lot – even if one doesn’t at first understand the poetry. Hill has an absolutely encyclopaedic knowledge of European culture and history. Except for this endless knowledge, which is only occasionally wearisome, here is rather more of a reversal of everything I have ever loved Geoffrey Hill for being able to say with language.


Skill with words is not deceit, and accidental effects with language are a far cry from nurturing poetry into some state of grace. “Wish I had been born lucky instead of beautiful and hungry” as the actress said to the promoter. Far from wanting to praise this book, I hated it.


Perhaps there is some essential Hill lurking in the text here, in that it is a refusal to make hay with someone else’s pain. Or at any rate an unconscious refusal, so that sometimes when he writes an elegy to this effect (Dylan Thomas’s “A Refusal To Mourn The Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” comes to mind as a contrast), Hill does it so badly that it is actually a bad poem. Or book, of course. The precedent I am thinking of in Hill’s work for this idea of a poem that is a literal refusal in that it is unaesthetic is “September Song” in King Log (1968), which is an elegy for a child victim of the holocaust: “Undesirable you may have been, untouchable / you were not” it begins. “Rate zero on recent PAST AS DISTRESSED SUBTEXT” says Hill in Speech! Speech!. Not my problem, but perhaps it explains a style that implies a refusal of hired applause on the basis of stealing someone else’s suffering. The covering picture of this book should be included at this point, within quotation marks.


Speech! Speech! is not rhymed, it is written with the rhythms of the speaking voice, with accents on particular words. There are little notation marks incorporated into the text, as though particular lines or passages were to be remembered or enjoyed more than others. I found these scansion marks felt like trying to read someone else’s favourite lines as though they were a specially emphasised part of the text. His latest book uses scansion to much better effect. Overall, in Speech! Speech!, other than the unconscious refusal (in judicious metaphor) to use someone else’s suffering or abuse their privacy, finding a clear overall theme here is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack, or even studying the structure of ice crystals to predict the movement of glaciers.


It is like telegraphese, where the meaning is the structure, and we shouldn’t take the keys and references buried in the text too seriously, other than as information supporting an ethical position the meaning of which amounts to an incapacity to deny the human spirit.


There are lines here that are tragi-comic, although in a locked-in, private sort of way, that seem to me to be uncharacteristic of Geoffrey Hill. Certainly Canaan was underpinned by the symbolism of Freemasonry, but in general Hill’s poetry is public language: rotund and difficult certainly, but responsible to a maddening extent, socially sanctioned and graceful. Two worlds away from either shallow or cunning.


In Speech! Speech! the topos that Hill suggests could illuminate the freedom of the text (or darken its luminosity, as it would otherwise do) is the biblical Sodom: “my topos is SODOM, grandiose / unoriginal” (poem 112). It has the added literary referent of the Marquis de Sade’s book, 120 Days of Sodom, a tale of indifferent cruelty and the absence of any moral restriction. As a view of the world and the human condition the topos of Sodom would seem to lack perspective. I was wishing that Sodom could be understood merely as a trope or a figure of speech, functioning entirely within a very specific context: a historical time period or the world of a book. I would suggest instead that this text functions as a trope, as a reference and comment on a real and literary circumstance. I was reminded while reading of the Buñuel film L’Age D’Or, where both the agents of de Sade, and those of authority conspire, in a nightmarish, apocalyptic atmosphere, against a young couple. Each of whom are for the other, the embodiment of a real and a true love.


The Orchards of Syon (2002), Hill’s next book, takes its title from the Dialogues of St Catherine of Sienna. The Dialogues have been translated into English twice, first in the early fifteenth century by an unknown writer who intended the work for the nuns of the monastery of Syon in England, and called it The Orcherd of Syon. The fifteenth century Orcherd was translated from fourteenth century Italian, and printed in 1519. This edition was most recently published in 1966. A 1980 edition, with translation (into modern English) has salient features that relate Hill’s inspiration for these poems. For Catherine, God is “la prima dolce Verita” (gentle first truth), and God is “Pazzo d’amore” (mad with love) and “essa carita” (charity itself). For Catherine, “The way to God is the constantly lived dynamic of knowledge and love”.  [2]


What do you do when someone sings pain a lovesong? One that, for reasons of either language or obtuseness, you find to be a Rubik’s Cube, for the most part? Despite the atmospheric chunks of pure poetry, that occur here and there: “I could / not answer, but left him there in silence. / Curlew and kestrel trek the fell-side, / the Hodder burls, a pheasant / steps from the thorny hedgebank beside us, / the stooped pear-tree honours us with its shade”.


Do you just feel the torment, as though there’s something you simply can’t get the hang of, and that’s so untypical for you? Feel puzzled at how unconscionable it is for anyone to elegize the details of someone else’s suffering, despite it being couched in the framework of a tacky refusal? Why commit it to paper at all? I have a family problem called anger, and I struggled with it in great gusts while reading this book.


A lot of this book seems to make sense as purely objective revelation – as a paean for the details of someone else’s personal life. The title has connotations of the Garden of Gethsemane, and when this is associated with the innocence of childhood, as well as the mythic past, one starts to fear for the justice of the information. Is this tribute or theft?


Go back to cast off several lives. Find
all have godlike elements
divided among them: such suffering,
you can imagine, driven, murderous,
albeit under notice of grace.


Is it enough to think of places in which we, or those whom we love (or know of), have undergone emotional and physical pain? Even if one is used to poetry that has an underlying Christian or religious belief. Who dares to talk of death by agony and then somehow identify this with a previous state of innocence and even specifically that of a child?


Transcending pain and getting on with life is a daily ablution, even if poets don’t manage it as often as most. In this book, a reader keeps encountering the impulse to make thought, to philosophize, almost as a form of anger against the need to emote. “As if the gods even now had faith in us”. Unfortunately, the verse feels as if it has too many of the specific details of someone else’s very personal pain. What is the literary, let alone the ethical validity of describing suffering not one’s own in this way? Such a weight of intrusiveness has the effect of staying there, with the painful details, as if they alone were the poetry. Given that the whole impulse of the poetic enterprise is to transcend the onus of personal detail, to soar above it for some heartbeats. Not to go on about pain itself, but to describe with loving and careful exactitude, what comes from within and without, blessedly, to take its place?


There is of course the likelihood that Hill has gauged all these reactions in some measure, and is taking his awareness of the ethical dimensions of such poetry to the limit. Writing bad poetry to make a point which can’t be ignored because it incorporates some powerful writing within it? For instance, life-through-death coupled with the virginal sexuality of poem XLIV, that is lament for the killing fields of WWI as much as for a disgusting circumstance:


trouble no more these Orchards of Syon
glutted with spillage; where the blind-worm
excretes her young.


The entire work is, like all of Hill’s poetry and most particularly the last few books, written through an absolute network of cultural and literary history. Not exactly inaccessible, for a reader with access to the internet, but definitely boorish in its insistence on obsessive referencing. Lines like “the sad man breaking in his stupent heart, / his stupent heart hog-tied on Southport sands” leaves one with the impression of scholarship (Curae leves loquuntur ingentes stupent “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb” – Seneca, Hippolytus, ii.3.607), but also wondering rather dementedly why someone doesn’t just untie him.


I suspect Hill does not want us to like this book. I think he wishes to call into question the ability of postmodernism (as a code for language) to deal with human evil. As well as to perhaps hold up to account, in some individual and tormented way, the distastefulness of trying merely to exhibit the suffering of others to create the effects (beauty, one supposes) that would otherwise raise and redeem those people’s individual struggles for some sort of grace under fire. Lyricism escapes despite wealth in bank accounts would be then a Pilgrim’s Progress of the envious in a prosperous age.


To suggest that Hill has written a book on purpose to stoke our disgust, is perhaps rather cynical. After all, to clothe oneself in another’s suffering is like stealing the name of God, and is a theological concern that as far as I know, has not yet been cause for comment in British poetry. The Aztecs had a god of death and rebirth, Xipe Totec whose name means “Our Lord the Flayed One”. His sacrificial victims were flayed alive, and the priests then danced around in the victim’s skin, bloody side out, to ensure agriculture and food (crops, grain etc) to humans. Each year in the spring, his victims were sacrificed.


Perhaps it is rather pompous, to title a review of Hill’s poetry “Some Aspects of the Tetragrammaton”, basing this on the way it concerns itself with aspects of justice, and both the meaning of creativity and of compassion. I suppose there was a link for me between the darker aspects of so-called ‘pagan culture’ and contemporary social preoccupaions and formulas of so-called progress. We say the words God and Lord in Judaeo-Christian traditions, but also in Hindi worship. We worship by calling forth or singing the names of God in both Hinduism and Islam. In Judaeo-Christian tradition the name of God was not to be spoken lest it be blasphemed. If believers do not describe, the idea of God cannot be made to seem even its opposite, I suppose. How in fact does one begin to speak of God, when language itself can be appropriated? The four Hebrew characters that correspond to the name of the Almighty are a transliteration to IAWE or Yahweh. To steal another’s suffering under the guise of compassion or passion for some other good (the return of the seasons, for instance, or the re-vitalizing of a national culture) is more like demonstrating the act of stealing the name of God. Which may just be love. Although I am not prepared to venture any definite opinions on the subject. The poet Geoffrey Hill is a Professor of Literature and Religion, and I am entirely and always, by choice and by circumstance really only a poet, but mayhap we are not all that dissimilar when thinking about poetry.


It seems to be the case that Hill’s poetry has less and less of a reliance on traditional poetic forms. His work prior to 1985 is, for instance, entirely alliterative. It dazzles with the strength of this technique. His use of paradox in Tenebrae is almost the reverse of his engagement with the techniques and philosophies (in some of its implications) of postmodernism in his two most recent books. The paradoxes in Tenebrae often demonstrate how our structures of language might break down when it comes to describing reality, but function brilliantly when it comes to Geoffrey Hill’s ability to write poetry: “true-torn among this fictive consonance … / Your silence is an ecstasy of sound / and your nocturnals blaze upon the day. / I founder in desire for things unfound. / I stay amid the things that will not stay.” (Tenebrae, the poem sequence titled “LACHRIMAE … ” Poem 5, “Pavana Dolorosa”). The refusal to inspire in the last two books, the almost charnel-ground atmosphere of some of The Orchards of Syon, is in bitter contrast.


I loved Hill’s Scenes From Comus (2005) so much, I almost don’t want to write about it. The epigraph to the book includes a line of music that implies an onward recurrence and that is the best description of the attitude to philosophy as well as to poetry, in this book.


It is odious to explain, but sometimes it becomes necessary to find some underlying structure if one is to read his verse as more than semantics – more than a sort of linguistic grand music. I see the wherefore of his references if I have deciphered the underlying source of logic, or structure of thought, belief, or psychological information that enables the poetry. I say “enables” because the book gives one that impression. It delights, while feeling as though it were ground and scraped out of sandstone when a lack of tools were the right ones. Being able to do that work, one realises is the basis of love.


It’s in three sections, “The Argument of the Masque”, “Courtly Masking Dances” and “The Argument of the Antimasque”. Together they compose one hundred and twenty highly literate and literary poems in Sanskrit. It allows whatever may happen, although the strength of the verse implies the continuance of belief:


Hidden artificers of the visible
withhold what’s long been destined to the dark.

In shifting shapes eternity resumes.


Tenderness in Geoffrey Hill occurs as though it were an oxymoron. It’s like realising that someone is embarrassed because their knuckles are bleeding after working in the cold with wood or stone. The grand effects are there, and then he steps back and lets you see even the bruise sustained, without any sense that here is not a coward’s portion:


It ejaculates its pain and is not
answered; nor acknowledged, even.
Give you these, by way of apology:
obvious things, patience that has for emblem
certain oblivious fibres, the flax-plant supremely;
chicory also, its sober chance provision;
the service tree, wild, scarce, with healing willow;
the torchwort or mullein, as it is known,
and comfrey the waste healer.


In an age in which I couldn’t believe in anything it is sobering to have these poems. Not to take him for granted, they seem to be the finest I’ve read. The possible apocryphal status of Shakespeare is enough to make a scholar laugh and a Professor retire, however that this much can be honestly salvaged as opposed to dishonestly managed by those with a darker agenda, is cause for some peace. To understand history and to write after that is perhaps the fate of the poet Geoffrey Hill. The great triumph is that his poetry is a pleasure, as composed and difficult as it is.


[1] Rüdiger Schleicher was one of the five men imprisoned and executed for the attempt on Hitler’s life in 1944, in the event that became known as the Stauffenberg conspiracy.

[2]  Catherine of Sienna, Dialogues. Translation and Introduction by Suzanne Noffke, Preface by Giuliana Cavallini SPCK London 1980, P8.

Bibliographical note

This article was based on reading Hill’s poetry and criticism over a number of years. The Lords of Limit Essays on Literature and Ideas, Andre Deutsch, Britain 1984, Collected Poems, King Penguin, Britain 1985, The Enemy’s Country Words, Contexture, and other Circumstances of Language Stanford University Press, 1991, Canaan, First Mariner Books, New York 1998, Penguin 1996. The Triumph of Love, Mariner Books, New York 1998, Speech! Speech! Counterpoint, Washington 2000, The Orchards of Syon, Counterpoint, Washington 2002, Scenes From Comus, Penguin books, London 2005.

    Nigel Roberts, Pam Brown, Dîpti Saravanamuttu, Courthouse Hotel beer garden, Newtown, Sydney, at the launch of Surfers Paradise magazine number 3, 12 March 1983, photo John Tranter [m1b11]

Sydney poets Nigel Roberts, Pam Brown, Dîpti Saravanamuttu, Courthouse Hotel beer garden, Newtown, Sydney, at the launch of Surfers Paradise magazine #3, 12 March 1983, photo John Tranter [m1b11]

Dîpti Saravanamuttu has recently returned to Sydney after several years of being a hermit in Melbourne, Australia. She is currently exploring life as a sannyasin in the Western suburbs.

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