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Geoffrey Hill

The Drama of Reason

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Alex Pestell

Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016) was often hailed as one of the most important – and one of the most difficult – poets of his lifetime. This book is a timely investigation into a writer whose work seems simultaneously to invite analysis and to refuse explanations of its sensuous, allusive language. It provides an introduction to Hill’s work for readers coming to it for the first time and offers an account of his poetics that will be of interest to his more experienced readers. Alongside many close readings of poems spanning Hill’s long and varied career, the author brings to light findings from the Geoffrey Hill Archive in Leeds and investigates the poet’s important critical writings. Hill’s often antagonistic engagement with the thought of other poets and philosophers supplies the book’s structure. Coleridge, Eliot, F. H. Bradley and Ezra Pound are engaged by Hill in a dramatic contest over what the author claims is his visionary aim for poetry: the realisation of the objective conditions of judgement. Above all, Hill is presented as a quintessentially modernist poet – at odds with modernity, and at the same time creating a language answerable to its rich, traumatic complexity.
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Chapter 3: ‘Judgement’s gorge’: T. H. Green and Speech! Speech!

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CHAPTER 3

‘Judgement’s gorge’: T. H. Green and Speech! Speech!

I concluded the previous chapter outlining Coleridge’s shift from a conception of the imagination as a power able to dissolve and reconfigure seemingly fixed determinants in history, to the imagination as a source of consolation detached from the public sphere. Reverberations from this shift account for some of the contradictions in Hill’s attitude to art’s diagnostic and transformative power, and these contradictions are only ramified by a change in Hill’s position vis-à-vis the role of the poet in society. The following two chapters will examine this trajectory from an impersonal to a more subjective poetics, by considering two books from Hill’s late period: Canaan and Speech! Speech! Both volumes, I will argue, are concerned with judgement – theological, aesthetic and juridical – and bear the marks of Hill’s reading in post-Coleridgean nineteenth-century philosophy. Two beneficiaries of Coleridge’s brand of German Idealism – T. H. Green and F. H. Bradley – occupy a surprising amount of Hill’s critical work, especially where questions of moral and aesthetic judgement are under consideration. By focusing on Hill’s reading of these two philosophers, another aspect of the drama of reason is brought to light, wherein poetry and philosophy submit rival claims as arbiters of objectivity.

What Christopher Ricks, in a recent essay, calls ‘the possibilities and impossibilities of reconciliation’ are intimately bound up in Geoffrey Hill’s imagination with the ethical and prosodic paraphernalia of judgement.1 The rivalry between...

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