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Geoffrey Hill and his Contexts


Edited By 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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Matthew Sperling - Hill and Nineteenth-Century Linguistic Thought 107


Matthew Sperling Hill and Nineteenth-Century Linguistic Thought 1 The Oxford English Dictionary is a work of the first importance to Geof frey Hill’s poetry and critical writing. In ‘Common Weal, Common Woe’ (1989), Hill’s essay on the second edition of the dictionary, he of fers high praise: It is a blessing, both for the genius of the language and for the ‘peculiar work’ of the writer, that this is so…That the great work of Murray, his associates and his suc- cessors is a matter of immeasurable national indebtedness should be a proposal not subject to debate…Most of what one wants to know, including much that it hurts to know, about the English language is held within these twenty volumes. (CCW, pp. 276, 278, 279) Hill’s phrase ‘peculiar work’ is a quotation from sense four of the diction- ary’s entry for the word genius, which he had cited earlier, writing that: ‘the genius of the language is peculiarly determined by, and is correlatively a determinant of, “the special endowments which fit a man for his peculiar work”’ (CCW, p. 275). Hill’s own ‘peculiar work’ has been blessed by and indebted to the OED to an unusual degree, as Vincent Sherry acknowledges when he writes that Hill ‘is a student of the etymological dictionary’.1 The debt is clear on every page of his poetry, and frequently within his criticism: the long entry for ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ in the index to the Collected 1 Vincent Sherry, The Uncommon Tongue: The...

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