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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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Matthew Paskins - Hill and Gillian Rose 171

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matthew paskins Hill and Gillian Rose In a review of Geof frey Hill’s book A Treatise of Civil Power, Neil Powell was troubled by what he took to be Hill’s presumption of private knowl- edge: ‘to understand “In Memoriam: Gillian Rose”’, he wrote, ‘we need to know not only that Rose was a philosopher who died in 1995, which is public, but also why Hill quarreled with her, which isn’t’.1 This asks too much from the poet, and too little about the poem. Hill’s elegy is a deeply felt and imagined response to Rose’s work, alive with many energies, and as such it is neither wholly public nor altogether private. The poem itself is a kind of meeting between them, irrespective of biographical detail. To adopt one of Rose’s key terms, which Hill guardedly praises in the poem, it is an agon (section 12) – a term whose etymology simultaneously suggests gathering, dispute, and prize-contest. My goal in this essay is to suggest some of the af finities between her work and what his elegy makes of it, indicating some direct allusions and common themes. I also argue that in the specific details of his adaptations of passages from Rose’s work, Hill shifts her sense in a way which is contrary to the spirit of her argument. Thus, I suggest, the explicit argument which he stages also operates on a subterranean level, in the relation of his poem to her memoirs and philoso- phy. This runs the risk of making...

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