I started with A Treatise of Civil Power (2005) with its allusions to Milton and Cromwell, war and politics, classics and modernity, and was immediately addicted. Hill somehow completely enmeshes 1500s and 1600s history with modern day references, phrases and understanding. But the way he does it is a credit to the English language. This is the sort of thing best read to yourself or to others out-loud. Like:
"...Getting into the act I ordain a dishonoured
and discredited nation.
Milton or Clarendon might well approve.
Can't say who else would. It smacks rather
of moral presumption. Things are not that bad.
H. Mirren's super ..."
"... If God were not light - how does it go on?
Or at whose say so? Trouble the hypothesis
to be an immortal fact. It is enough
even mortalists concede the nub. Save God's
being light, spirit could not have been.
The marvellous webs are rimed with eternity ..."
Or from Clavics (2011), which I read next:
"... Cut our loss. Make Prognosticks a back-list.
For labour of petty conundrums use
any commonplace book as model: strings
of synonyms, cramped maxims, anecdotes
nine-tenths botched in conveyance ..."
Over the last week I just devoured King Log (1968), Tenebrae (1978) and The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy (1983) and I can't stop. Hill's words are too entrancing. I'm not financially rich enough to buy the books as fast as I want to read them. They are, in fact, finite in number however. So I'm going to have to slow down and allow myself only one or two a month. Anyone else here discovered Hill yet?
"Even less able to approach or end.
Things stood thus last time. So try periods.
But don't go there.
Tortoise and hare
Divisions to the wire.
Tune out of my mind
Speaks well of sensuous apprehension
Somebody in a different domain
Take the Rach Three:
That will play your manhood
My young maestro!
I may be monstrously understating -
ETERNITY IRRADIATES COUPLE.
With none to care
Blank Cretaceous settled down this bubble.
Set yourself as finality avails
Tell most without saying
From blood-clay build what ennobles.
Untenable still the timeless values."
Here's a quick excerpt from Gregory Wolfe's Beauty Will Save the World (pages 87-88):
I occasionally read poetry, but I haven't been this fascinated, upon discovering the poetry of someone I hadn't read yet, for years.
... Hill inhabits a world which has seen the brutality of totalitarianism and the banality of materialism. His generation has set its sights lower, looking to the small moments of lyric inspiration for its subjects.
Geoffrey Hill nonetheless has stood resolutely from his poetic contemporaries. For thirty-five years, he has written poetry preoccupied with power and violence in European history, and with religious experience. Hill's baroque, sensual, highly formal verse manifests all the qualities which Eliot believed "difficult" modern poetry must possess - allusions, indirection, and ambiguity abound. Only in the last few years has Hill's stature come to be recognized. It now seems likely that in the future his name will tower over those of Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes, as well as his American counterparts.
Hill can be thought of as a Christian poet only in a limited sense. Brought up as an Anglican, Hill has refused in his mature years to identify himself with Christian belief, though he has insisted that he is a theist. He has claimed that his poetry is largely concerned with the inability of someone with a modern consciousness to experience religious faith. Hill's character is in fact very close to that of Simone Weil, who was locked in an anguished dialectic with Christianity and the Catholic Church. Despite the pronouncements of many secular critics who downplay Hill's religious dimension, it remains true that Hill continues to grapple with the tensions of Christian experience, and he has even commented that the poet may communicate grace without possessing it himself. His poetry is of inestimable value because it brings a thoroughly modern sensibility to bear on the experience of faith - and it does so with searing honesty and even, on occasion, humility. His challenge is one that Christians must accept and attend to ..."