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Geoffrey Hill and his Contexts

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Piers Pennington and Matthew Sperling

Geoffrey Hill is one of the most significant poets currently at work in the English language. The essays gathered in this book present a number of new contexts in which to explore a wide range of his writings, from the poems he wrote as an undergraduate to the recent volumes A Treatise of Civil Power (2007) and Collected Critical Writings (2008). Connections are made between the early and the later poetry, and between the poetry and the criticism, and archival materials are considered along with the published texts. The essays also make comparisons across disciplines, discussing Hill’s work in relation to theology, philosophy and intellectual history, to literature from other languages, and to the other arts. In doing so, they cast fresh light upon Hill’s dense, original and sometimes challenging writings, opening them up in new ways for all readers of his work.

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Michael Molan - Milton and Eliot in the Work of Geoffrey Hill 81

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Michael Molan Milton and Eliot in the Work of Geof frey Hill 1 T. S. Eliot casts a long shadow over the twentieth-century reception of Milton, and his first essay on Milton is a key text in the ‘controversy’ which animated Milton studies at the beginning of the century.1 The complicated structure of the controversy involves arguments about various features of Milton’s poetry, theology, and politics, but Eliot’s initial essay focuses on a stylistic analysis, amounting to a symbolic rejection of a canonical writer by a leading poet. The essay is not a general condemnation of Milton’s poetry; rather, Eliot delivers a particular critique of Milton, claiming that his ‘rhetorical style’ is a bad inf luence on contemporary poets. In this style, ‘a dislocation takes place, through the hypertrophy of the auditory imagination at the expense of the visual and tactile, so that the inner meaning is separated from the surface’.2 This places the essay in line with Eliot’s theory of the seventeenth- century ‘dissociation of sensibility’, which he had claimed ‘was aggravated by the inf luence of the two most powerful poets of the century, Milton and Dryden’.3 Milton is mentally and physically bound to this theory: 1 T. S. Eliot, ‘A Note on the Verse of John Milton’, Essays and Studies, 21 (1936), 32–40; reprinted as ‘Milton I’ in On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber and Faber, 1957), pp. 138–45. For a standard account of the Milton controversy, see Patrick Murray, Milton: The Modern Phase (London:...

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