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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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Sheridan Burnside - The ‘Tenebrae’ Poems of Paul Celan and Geoffrey Hill 151


Sheridan Burnside The ‘Tenebrae’ Poems of Paul Celan and Geof frey Hill The first clear connection between the work of Geof frey Hill and Paul Celan is to be found in Tenebrae (1978), Hill’s fourth volume of poetry. Tenebrae includes free translations of two poems from Celan’s Die Niemandsrose (The Noonesrose, 1963), which Hill collectively terms ‘Two Chorale-Preludes: on melodies by Paul Celan’ (CP, pp. 165–6). E. M. Knottenbelt considers these to be a ‘double elegy’ for Celan,1 while Andrew Michael Roberts discusses the significance of musical form in Hill’s interpretation of Celan’s texts.2 A second substantial connection between Hill and Celan is felt through- out The Orchards of Syon (2002), where six of the sequence’s poems make explicit reference to Celan. He is named in poems XXVIII and LIII, and Hill refers repeatedly to ‘Atemwende’, which is the term Celan uses to define poetry in his Georg Büchner Prize speech of 1960, ‘Der Meridian’,3 and also the title of a volume of his poetry from 1967.4 The German word is a neologism and Hill remarks that it ‘beggars translation’, while experiment- ing with various possible renderings: ‘breath-hitch’ (XXVIII); ‘catch-breath, breath-ply’ (XXXI); ‘breath-fetch’ (XXXII); ‘turn / of breath’ (XXXVI); ‘breath-glitch’ (LI). Among other things, Celan’s ‘Atemwende’ refers to the 1 E. M. Knottenbelt, Passionate Intelligence: The Poetry of Geof frey Hill (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1990), pp. 249–52. 2 Andrew Michael Roberts, Geof frey Hill (Tavistock: Northcote House, 2004), pp. 25–7. 3 Paul Celan, Gesammelte Werke,...

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