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Geoffrey Hill

The Drama of Reason


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 4: F. H. Bradley and the ‘way of apprehension’


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F. H. Bradley and the ‘way of apprehension’

In the notes accompanying his lecture on T. H. Green in the Leeds archive, Hill transcribed a passage from Dorothea Krook’s study Three Traditions of Moral Thought:

The best [philosophers] … are, like the best poets, a perpetual threat to the conventional distinction between the abstractness of philosophy and the concreteness of poetry. For they give us, so intensely, the sense of being in touch with the concrete, indeed of never having lost touch with it, but only of having, as Coleridge says, generalized the particulars of experience, and generalized in such a way as to involve ultimately no loss of particularity.1

For Hill, Green’s ‘exemplary failure’, and that of his contemporaries, was not only to encourage this loss of particularity in an oceanic expansiveness, but to mistake poetry for the royal road to this expansiveness. Whereas Wordsworth, for example, was seen by A. C. Bradley as the poet of boundlessness, his real virtue (as ‘Resolution and Independence’ shows) lies in the faltering and inarticulate. A lecture by Hill from 1971, headed ‘Romantic Poetry – COLERIDGE’, gives another example of this quality in Wordsworth.2 Hill begins with a discussion of ‘She Dwelt Among th’Untrodden Ways’ and ‘Old Man Travelling’. The latter in particular, Hill claims, has a kind of determinate hesitancy:

The little hedge-row birds,

That peck along the road, regard him not. He travels on,...

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