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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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Afterword 231

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Afterword Odi Barbare is one of ‘The Daybooks’, the five new books of poetry which will be included in Hill’s forthcoming Collected Poems. In an interview given in 2010, he remarked that the sequence ‘derives from a rediscovery of the power and beauty of one of Sir Philip Sidney’s lyrics in Arcadia, a demanding technical exercise in English “Sapphics”’.1 Hill has in mind the lyric which begins: If mine eyes can speak to do hearty errand, Or mine eyes’ language she do hap to judge of, So that eyes’ message be of her received, Hope, we do live yet.2 The challenge of writing English poetry in classical metres is one which attracted a great many poets in Sidney’s time, but one which has not fre- quently been taken up since.3 Hill announces his intention to ‘Measure loss re-cadencing Sidney’s Sapphics’4 at the sequence’s beginning, and in these three later sections we find the ‘demanding technical exercise’ shap- ing poetry of strange and complex beauty. Hill mentioned in his conversation with Rowan Williams that ‘in the last couple of years I have gone back to writing very formal poetry’, and he went on to discuss the exploratory power of technique, which, for him, 1 Chris Woodhead, ‘Geof frey Hill: “I was wired weird”’, in Standpoint, July/August 2010, 86–7 (86). 2 Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, ed. Maurice Evans (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 190. 3 For a discussion of the quantitative experiments of Sidney and his contemporaries,...

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