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Geoffrey Hill and his Contexts

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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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Marcus Waithe - Hill, Ruskin, and Intrinsic Value 133

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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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