Edited By Piers Pennington and Matthew Sperling
Marcus Waithe - Hill, Ruskin, and Intrinsic Value 133
Marcus Waithe Hill, Ruskin, and Intrinsic Value In the essay ‘Poetry and Value’ (2001), Geof frey Hill makes the surprising admission that ‘Until recently I was essentially an adherent of “intrinsic value” as delineated by Ruskin’ (CCW, pp. 485–6). ‘I am’, he adds, ‘now much less sure of my position’. The remark puzzles because it announces a change of attitude that is hard to discern: while Ruskin has evidently been on Hill’s mind for decades, there is little in his poetry and criticism to suggest prior adherence or unqualified admiration. Ruskin has not ranked among the body of martyrs – religious, political, artistic – that one asso- ciates with Hill’s memorial work. The few references to him in the early poems are in fact markedly critical and distanced. One might expect Ruskin’s struggle with mental illness and the post- humous trials of his reputation to endear him to Hill: many of his poetic subjects possess a similarly ‘brave’ and ‘beleaguered’ status.1 But Hill does not relate to Ruskin in this way. He seems more disposed to cast him as a perpetrator of rhetorical coercion than a fellow combatant in the war on cliché. Ruskin emerges not as the martyr to an especially digni- fied cause, but as the symbol of something disappointed; and he appeals to Hill’s position of dif ficult and doubting faith, to the sense of yearning for an obsolete and impermissible object. He possesses an instrumental significance in this regard, channelling Hill’s need to upset the certitudes to...
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