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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 6: Pound’s ‘epic blague’


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Pound’s ‘epic blague’

In Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor, Donald Davie contends that ‘Pound has made it impossible for anyone any longer to exalt the poet into a seer’.1 Davie’s argument is that Pound’s example exposes as pathologically eccentric his aspirations towards predictive or diagnostic social analysis, and relegates poetry to a realm in which its evaluations have no intelligible relation to the real world. ‘[O]ut of the Bohemia he is condemned to’, writes Davie, ‘the poet cannot truthfully see or investigate public life at all’.2 Pound’s increasingly irrational and racist diagnosis, in the thirties and forties, of the economic causes of political injustice, motivates not just the poetry written during that time, but the journalism and letters to friends and eminent politicians, in America and Italy, which form the far greater bulk of his written output in that period.3 In them we see chastening evidence of Pound’s quixotic belief that he could instigate policy reform by dint of energetic, if vague, reaffirmations of what he saw as fundamental economic facts, guaranteed not by anything so empirical as sociopolitical analysis, but by his status as poet. As we have seen, ‘Our Word Is Our Bond’ shows that Hill was aware of this exaggeration of status. More recently he has diagnosed Pound’s failure in some curt lines in Al Tempo de’ Tremuoti: ‘When Pound said I cannot / Make it cohere, his burden was the poet / Primus inter pares,...

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