Emily Bilman: Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

  Dr. Emily Bilman

  Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

  and The Phenomenology of the Non-Self

Perhaps it should be mentioned that John Tranter, the editor of JPR, is not overly fond of Hill’s poetry

Paragraph One follows — 1:

The purpose of this introductory paper is to trace Geoffrey Hill’s poetic evolution and demonstrate one of Geoffrey Hill’s concepts of poetry as an action experienced and elaborated through his inner life and shaped by his poetical thought. I chose the chronological approach to his work in order to indicate the progression of his poetical thought based on his personal phenomenology. The close reading of his poems enabled me to analyze the changes in his poetic techniques and his poetic progression from a more concrete imagistic and moral stance to a more abstract, skeptical, and stoic one, characterized by his non-self that enabled him to objectify his perceptions while still maintaining his imagery and moral stance. Through his poems, I described his “non-self” that characterizes his later work to the point of self-censure and self-deprecation expressed mainly by archaic poetic techniques applied to actual poetics, referencing, oxymorons, irony, sarcasm, aphasia, negation, and inverse logic.


The Greek etymology of the word “poësis” implies a technique based on the act of shaping. In “Poetry as ‘Menace’ and ‘Atonement’”, Hill argues that we encounter both the menacing and atoning qualities of poetry within language and etymology. For Hill, as for T.S. Eliot, poetry is “… an exemplary instance of the at-one-ment of the ‘sense of language’ with the feeling for the ways of life.” Like Eliot, in “The Three Voices of Poetry”, Hill considers poetry to be a deed which, ought to be, but is not, necessarily, in accordance with our emotions. Compromises are needed. In “Poetry as Menace and Atonement”, Hill quotes the philosopher Rhush Rees to emphasize that utterance and active living are inseparable: “For we speak as others have spoken before us. And a sense of language is also a feeling for ways of living that have meant something.” (CCW, p. 13).


Hill’s concept of poetry as a deed is suggested in “Genesis”, the opening poem of his book, For the Unfallen (1959), in which the poet assumes a God-like persona and speaks as the world’s Creator.


/ = stressed syllable
\ = half-stressed syllable
u = unstressed syllable
(u) = a syllable missing from a metric form
| = divides the feet apart

| u / | u / | u / | u / |
Against the burly air I strode
| / u u | / u u | u / | (u) (u) |
Crying the miracles of God.


The strong rhythmic tetrameter of the first line, which accentuates the consonants, contains the oxymoron “burly air” that emphasizes the poet’s mixed feelings towards God’s miracles. “Burly” implies heft against the lightness of “air”. Furthermore, the poet takes on a moral weight, transcribed throughout the poem, through images of Nature’s fallen state that accentuate the animals’ precise, steel-like hunting instincts, despite their soft demeanors that are due to the poet’s personal projections.


And the third day I cried. ‘Beware
The soft-voiced owl, the ferret’s smile,
The hawk’s deliberate stoop in air,
Cold eyes, and bodies hooped in steel,
Forever bent upon the kill.’ (BH, p.3)


These images of Nature, driven by predation and bloodshed, transform the poem into a parody of the Genesis myth of creation. In his essay, “Common Weal, Common Woe”, Hill associates the deficiency of language with the fallibility of mankind. (CCW, p. 279, citing Newman). His belief in the Fall is also stated in “Poetry and Value” : “… attached as I am to a form of belief in Original Sin, one that is probably not too far removed from the orthodox…” (CCW, p. 479); for “There is no bloodless myth will hold.” (Genesis, BH, p. 3). Have the unbaptized not been baptized by the bloodshed in the world, Hill asks.


In “History as Poetry” which is contained in his next book, King Log (1968), Hill sees poetry as a Pentecostal feast referring both to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot and the instauration of , and to the Christian Pentecost when the Holy Spirit enlightened the souls of his disciples, followers, and martyrs. Hill also refers to the redemptive powers of poetry through the personification of Lazarus raised from the dead by Christ:


Unearths from among the speechless dead
Lazarus mystified, common man
Of death. (BH, p. 61)


According to Hill’s poetics, the act of poetry resurrects Lazarus and common man from death. Lazarus is, thus, mystified. Paradoxically, the process is both an act and a mystery for Hill. He implies that poetry is a secular and religious celebration for common man and the poet is Christ-like. Sarcastically, he associates history and its martyrs with his poetry.


In “September Song — born 19.6.32 — deported 24.9.42” from the same book, Hill harshly denounces the atrocities of the concentration camps with an antithetical historical allusion to the miraculous salvation of the Jewish children in Egypt “passed over at the proper time.” in stark contrast to the scientifically planned Nazi genocide of WWII.


As estimated, you died. Things marched,
Sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
Terror, so many routine cries. (BH, p.44)


Ironically, the poet protects himself from these atrocities by transforming his poem into an elegy. The elegy stands in contrast with the lyrical quality of the next stanza: “September fattens on the vines. Roses / Flake from the wall. The smoke / Of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.” And he, immediately, feels the weight of guilt : “This is plenty. This is more than enough.” (BH, p. 44). Hence, we see that the weight of the world makes the poet write about man’s fallenness, through original sin, as it is manifest through historical upheavals, martyrdoms, and the massacre of innocents whose awareness inflicts his super-ego with guilt.


Guilt, memory, and poetic language, expressed through Petrarch’s persona among others, are the main themes of The Triumph of Love (1998). For Hill, poetry as utterance and active virtue, are civic actions which must be used for the common good. In Section LXX, which has a conversational tone, the poet seeks “a noble vernacular” to reach common man through poetry.



Active virtue: that which shall contain
its own passion in the public weal —
do you follow? — or can you at least
take the drift of the thing? The struggle
for a noble vernacular: this
did not end with Petrarch. But where is it?
Where has it got us? Does it stop, in our case,
with Dryden, or, perhaps,
Milton’s political sonnets? — the cherished stock
hacked into ransom and ruin; the voices
of distinction, far back, indistinct.
Still, I’m convinced that shaping,
voicing, are types of civic action. Or, slightly
to refashion this, that Wordsworth’s two
Prefaces stand with his great tract
on the Convention of Cintra, witnessing
to the praesidium in the sacred name
of things betrayed. Intrinsic value
I am somewhat less sure of. It seems
implicate with active virtue but I cannot
say how, precisely. Partaking of both
fact and recognition, it must be, therefore,
in effect, at once agent and predicate:
imponderables brought home
to the brute mass and detail of the world;
there, by some, to be pondered. (LXX, BH, p. 259).


Hill supports his stance of committal in world-affairs by referencing Wordsworth’s two Prefaces to The Convention of Cintra, signed in August 30, 1808, which ended the Peninsular War between the French and the Anglo-Portuguese, allowing the former to be evacuated with their war-loot despite the Spanish protest. Wordsworth wrote a sonnet on the convention in which he stresses the importance of the innate freedom of the soul and the individual’s freedom of thought, influenced as he was by the French Revolution.


In Section LXX, Hill regrets that Milton’s political sonnets remain unread today. Yet, he strikes a satirical note by saying that the poem’s form does not correspond to its content as it once did in Milton’s time. The poet considers Wordsworth to be the “witness… of the praesidium in the sacred name / of things betrayed”. (LXX, BH, p. 259).


His implications are double-edged : the Anglo-Portuguese army’s action to evacuate the French army was considered to be “a betrayal” by the intellectuals of the time. Hill uses the predicate “betray” in the sense of “flawed”, implying, after Wordsworth and Byron, that the post-war diplomatic negotiations, the convention, and Sir Arthur Wellesley’s trial, the praesidium, were flawed by historical contingencies. Yet, the action and the diplomatic intervention served to stop the war. As such, it must have had “(the) sacred name” of peace.


In his essay “Poetry and Value”, Hill explains the relations between his concept of “intrinsic value” and poetic language with the metaphor of poetics as a ganglion of energy : “I am here presenting two interinvolved … categories … : questions related to the nature of language and questions related to poetics. … it is this latter ganglion of energy, techné, belief, and opinion that I have committed myself to address… ” (BH, p. 479).


In the poem, Hill hesitates to think that, perhaps, “active virtue” might be implicated by “intrinsic value”. He hesitates to know how. Finally, he recognises and concludes that “intrinsic value” is both the catalyst-agent and the predicate that drives men to action so that “the brute mass and detail of the world; / there, by some, (can) be pondered.” (LXX, BH, p. 259).


In Section CXLII of The Triumph of Love, Hill considers the classical rhetorical practice of ‘praise and vituperation’ as a formal poetic device applicable to The Triumph of Love (1998) and Speech! Speech! (2000).


I have introduced,
It is true, Laus et vituperatio
as a formality; still this formal thing
is less clear in situ. That —
possibly — is why I appeal to it. The Angels
of Sacral Equivocation, they now tell me,
are redundant: we have lost the Bloody Question.
(CXLII, BH, p. 283).


As seen in this section, The Triumph of Love is written in many voices, which enunciate even the rights of the dead victims who have fallen to inequity. The angels of equivocation, which make men speak differently than they think and feel, have ‘supposedly’ been made redundant. Yet, even today, we are still divided between our thoughts and actions. The angry poet thinks that we have lost the questions that can make us purge evil, yet these questions still remain to be answered. The answers wait [to] be joined in both utterance and act. As the discrepancy between world-events and the words needed to express them widens, Hill brings poetry to the public domain as a civil act of responsibility by questioning the contemporary use “in situ” of the classical rhetorical device. “Though you can count on there being some / bloody question or other, one does more / than merely survive.” (CXLII, BH, p. 284).


In a different context, Hill places the poet, as the speaker in the public domain, in Speech! Speech! (2000) which is confessional in tone yet, written in many voices, some of which are satirical. He bases this long poem on self-derision, sometimes turning it against himself, to the point of speechlessness. As the book opens, the poet, under the influence of lithium to calm his nerves, reduce his “mood- and mind-stress,” and his excitement, wonders whether he has any voice left at all to speak:


How is it to be named, how can it be un-
tuned, with lithium, this harp of nerves? Fare well
my daimon, inconstant
measures, mood- and mind-stress, heart’s rhythm
suspensive; earth-stalled the wings of suspension.
                    (3, BH, p. 290)


In Speech! Speech! Hill goes through a process of renunciation and self-denial to the point of reaching his “non-self” that I call the poet’s “virtual self” which I regard as one of the conditions of the poet’s creativity as well as of his empathy and nihilism. With his virtual self which is part of his creative self, the artist is able to objectify his perceptions in order to be able transcribe them into the media of art.


In the book, he uses street jargon, slang, puns, and cliché to denote his gradual descent into silent speechlessness. In Section 16, the poet’s memory-loss is equated with self-loss. The poet reaches the point of selflessness which, he thinks, is the condition of the self’s renewal. The last line in sequence 16 is also associated with the Christian paradox of deprivation, suffering, and redemption by the cross.


untranscribable, that which is wrests back
more than can be revived; inuring us
through deprivation, below and beyond life,
hard-come-by loss of self self’s restitution.
                    (16, BH, p. 296).


Yet, despite Hill’s occlusions and elliptical syntax, Speech! Speech! is written in an almost perfect pitch which, for Hill, is the hallmark of poetry because it transcribes the sound of music by the human voice. In his essay, “Translating Value”, he quotes Hopkins: “’Nothing else in nature comes near this unspeakable stress of pitch, distinctiveness, and selving, this selfbeing of my own.” (CCW, p. 391).


The discrepancy between the perfect pitch of poetry and an utter despair that plunges him into temporary nihilism, as he faces a fallen world, creates the tension inherent in Hill’s later poetry. In The Orchards of Syon (2002), he describes his perception of Elysium, feeling a sense of at-one-ness with his fellow-men.



Not all the orchards are for carols of death
and betrayal, the first the final
coupling, virgin fatality…
Goldengrove laid bare, becalmed,
lightly stretched in snow; peacock
and peahen treading in the white grass.
The Master of the Lost Fecundities
retraces leaf-spoor and hieroglyph,
makes equal atonement.
The hellebore, the Christmas rose, is crowned king.
Yes and we have gifts, at one with the Other.
Such tendernesses to our selves I mean,
Perennial, like the ilex. (BH, p. 377).


In Section XXVII, Hill thinks that man, regardless whether he is satisfied or not, survives his despair through freedom and determination, an idea that he expressed in an older version which was deleted from the present version. For Hill, every strife-driven and, at times, desperate common man, possibly symbolised by “The Master of the Lost Fecundities”, attains equal atonement. (Italics mine). The symbol also alludes to the myth of Osiris and man’s regeneration through the harvest. The poet feels an oceanic togetherness with his fellow men and a simultaneous tenderness, mixed with a need for protection, emotions he considers to be “perennial like the ilex.” The red berries of the ilex are toxic for humans although they can be digested by birds and propagated on an invasive scale. Yet, Hill wishes them to be perennial. “Bless poetics / if this is what they are.”


As in his many poems, in the following ekphrastic poem from his book, Without Title (2006), Hill enables us to see and feel the person behind the poem through the autobiographical elements in his verse. “The Jumping Boy” is based on a 1929 painting by the British artist Christopher Wood.




Here is the jumping boy, the boy
who jumps as I speak.

He is at home on the king’s highway,
in call of the tall house, its blind
gable end, the trees — I know this place.

The road, on broad contourings drawn out of sight,
stops — wherever — but not at Lyonnesse,
though from Lyonnesse I shall bring you,

through grimed orchards, across gorse-hummocked
old common land everywhere given back
to the future of memory.


He leaps because he has serious
joy in leaping. The girl’s
eyes no way allowed for, or else
she is close in covert and we
are to know that, not knowing how.
I’ll bet she worships his plebeian
bullet head, Hermes’ winged
plimsolls, the crinkled toy tin hat
held on by elastic. He is winning
a momentous and just war
with gravity.


This may be levitation. I
could do that. Give my remembrance
to his new body. These episodes recur.


Jump away, jumping boy; the boy I was
shouts go. (BH, p. 487)


This poem implies a graver introspection that transcends mere lyricism. Hill’s voice denotes a dédoublement which places the poet, in the past, with the young lad jumping in joy and, in the present, “I know this place”. The poet addresses the reader and himself, as a boy and as an adult. He deems it his determined duty to bring them back from the Arthurian legend that the poem is steeped in. The “old common (and native) land (would be) everywhere given back / to the future of (the boy’s, the poet’s, the reader’s) memory.”


The poet is torn between antithetical images of a legendary land and his own perception of the land, stretched from the past to the future, and expressed in the immediate imperative present of the poem. Through the use of oxymorons, the anticipating poet is liberated from the gravity of the reference to Tristan’s tragedy that weighs and will continue to weigh on him, through his future memory. (Italics mine).


The poem’s temporal ambiguity is further emphasized in the last two stanzas. Hill wants to remember the boy’s body in its lightness but also knows that it belongs to the past. “Jump away, jumping boy; the boy I was / shouts go.” In the last stanza, Hill leaves the reader hesitating to know whether he is willing to abandon his lyrical voice by shouting “go” or whether he will continue to write in his lyrical voice in the future. His ekphrastic poem, based on the poet’s perceptive experience of his life-story, transmits a double-edged, bittersweet message of déjà vu to the reader due to the poet’s repressed childhood feelings, aspirations, and memories.


Yet another poem from one of his later books, “A Treatise of Civil Power” (2007), contains an ekphrastic allusion to Blake’s painting, “The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan”, through which Hill, sardonically voices his opposition to British imperialism. The poem is called “On Reading Blake: Prophet Against Empire” and opens with Hill’s justification of adult cynicism that he compares with child-like innocence: the child loses his milk-teeth before he can pronounce words like “Quid” or even see things from an slant angle. In the second stanza, Hill identifies with Blake who was persecuted by the hazardous “Law’s dice-rattle” of his time for his unconventional religious practices. Yet, despite the discrimination that victimized him, instead of becoming an opportunist, Blake became nobler through a sublime chance.


Tongue-in-cheek, Hill continues to the third stanza: “As to the sublime, don’t take / my gloss on it. The Spiritual Form / of Nelson Guiding Leviathan: you behold / only the hero, the corpses, and the coils / of his victories, grandly weighed and spread. / For a long age you do not see the monster,” (BH, p. 569). The painting’s composition, with its bright colours and the nude figure of Nelson both as a classical Greek god and a haloed Christ-like figure, repelling the monster that holds the nations as prisoners in its coils, leads the beholder to experience grandeur and awe in the phenomenological sense. But the great poet, much like the painter, Hill implies, rejoices in the artifice of the artwork and that of the poem, and ignores the leviathan, the double allegorical symbol of war and the ambiguous emperor.


In William Blake, the poet-critic, Kathleen Raine, says that “… in 1809… it seems that Blake was a supporter of the national cause against Napoleon, if not in the conventional sense, at least in the prophetic region of spiritual causes. But ‘the happy country’ of which he called himself a citizen was the ‘Kingdom not of this world.’” Blake’s ideal world of Messianic peace, good will, and harmony would be brought by the Second Coming of Christ, and voiced in his poem Jerusalem through which, Hill, after Whitman, thinks, “he could / contradict and contain multitudes.” (BH, p. 569).


Blake transposes his idealistic view of Jerusalem to England to assure people’s unity and simultaneously, contradict the “satanic mills” of the the Industrial Revolution that mechanized human relations. Through Blake’s persona, whom he identifies with Christ’s, and through his own unconscious identification with both of these personae, Hill assumes a poetic persona associated with the Anglo-Catholic Trinity. Through his identification with Christ, whose suffering and martyrdom leading to his cruxifiction, neutralised him to the point of defying death, Hill like Blake, attains the marriage of contraries to attain a non-self or a state in which “Terror is opportune as is relief from terror.” (Stanza I, BH, p. 569).


Thus, for Hill, working with language and poetry signifies that “From the depths of the self we rise to a concurrence with that which is not-self.” (CCW, p. 4). The co-existence and/or the co-operation of the self with the non-self implies a process of thought and interiorization, in the Piagetian sense, that leads the poet to deal with abstractions like faith, justice, truth, virtue etc.


In “Poetry and Value”, Hill refers to Coleridge’s chapter, called “Prudential Aphorisms” in the second edition of Aids to Reflection, to explain the role of the moral philosopher. He comments on the misuse of abstractions, more specifically, the misuse of the word “reflection” by laymen. Coleridge, like Jean Piaget, wrote on “reflection” or “thought” as a “’co-instantaneous yet reciprocal action’. Coleridge linked language with individual will and an empowering law. He, like Hill, thought of “’THE WORD, as informing; and THE SPIRIT, as actuating.’” (CCW, p. 448). Hill, after Coleridge, thinks that words inform us while the spirit or the mind actuates language that is the basis of thought. As such, we see the interrelations between Hill’s reference, Coleridge’s idea of reflection, and the Piagetian paradigms.


At the end of Prophet Against Empire, having referenced Blake’s metaphysics, the poet finds himself in a state of “mere amazement” for his “dumbness” which causes a state of aphasia. Through irony, double negation, and inverse logic, Hill says that his “dumbness” does not correspond to the dumbness assumed by the republic (res public : public matters); and can not even clash with it except in matters of public utility like money or imported gas that are the “… tyrants / of unaccountable error”. (BH, p. 570) due to economic exploitation, market policies, and the constant abuse of power.


The last two stanzas (VIII & IX) are voiced in the tone of Beckettian indifference by an aging poet, exhausted by his incapacity to repair a world that has almost turned absurd. Hill uses the metaphor of the “baffle-plates” to symbolise man’s inner world, his defences, emotions, passions and aspirations, which are built “with the dexterity of a lifetime” but “dutifully” relinquished as death approaches through exhaustion, ire and/or wrath. Man and the poet, nearing death, ignore the flames behind the screen, a symbol of the intermediary realm between language and inexpressible metaphysical entities. In a sardonic comment of social satire, Hill says that man avoids the danger of combustious sights and old people. Finally, the aged man, nearing death, is left with the sole organ of orality, speech, and survival — his “mouth working.” The poet seems to know about death before it occurs.


One dies dutifully, of fearful exhaustion,
Or of one’s wrathful self, self’s baffle-plates
Contrived with the dexterity of a lifetime.
Nobody listens or contradicts the screen
Though, homeward bound, some find combustious
Sights to be stepped aside from — an old body
Its mouth working.


“Broken Hierarchies”, which is also the title poem of his collected poems (1952-2012), is a pastoral about a post-hierarchical fallow-world that had been broken by war, anarchy, injustice, and inequity. The chalk hills are geological structures formed by subsidence, sea-floor spreading, and consequent elevation at the time of the Alpine orogenesis in the Cretaceous period (145-66 mya) characterised by mass extinction of life on earth.


In the first four stanzas of the poem, Hill uses the metaphor of the British chalk cliffs “ — heavy rain — … / chalk-white yet with the chalk translucent;” (BH, p. 516) that had been broken by orogeny, then erosion, to make a satirical social commentary on the degradation of our social cohesion, symbolised by “the holding burden of wistaria / drape amid drape, the sodden / copia of all things flashing and drying:” Yet, Hill attains a sacred quality through the superimposed images of the butterflies in a personified oxymoron “a babble of silent tongues” and the personification of “the flint church also choiring / into dazzle”. The secular pastoral becomes a sacred song. The oxymoron “a babble silent tongues” could also be an ironic reference to the poet’s internalised poetic activity.


Most of the images of the second section could refer to the distorted effects of human existence that require “… a wild patience” / “replete with loss”. The implications of a perverse sexuality, symbolised by “the twankled dulcimer”, denotes a degenerate phenomenology denoting the broken hierarchies. Hill further emphasises these through the combined metaphor of the non-working male bee that fertilises the queen in the bees’ social colony and the hummingbird that settles in from another continent while the albatross wanders in from a foreign ocean “ranging-in” to his native shore that it fails to recognise. Hill’s implications are all negative at this stage.


The second four stanzas of the poem are antithetical to the pastoral first part made up of five stanzas, an asymmetry through which, Hill also hints at the broken hierarchies. As a possible reading, the referential images of the second section can be read as negative counterparts of the first section : aureate stark sounds versus heavy translucent rain; the tw(a)nkled or tw(i)nkling dulcimer versus the choiring church; the foreign humming bird against the probing native butterflies; and finally, the alien shore versus the brightness of the flint church. The overlapping oxymorons, the mixed metaphors, and the stark contrast between these two sections all serve to demonstrate the broken hierarchies.


Yet, there is a tone of stoic acceptance of these hierarchical breaches that give a lyrical unity to the whole poem. It is interesting to note that, in the CD-recorded poetry reading he gave on the 1st of February 2006, in Oxford, Hill read “Broken Hierarchies” as a continuous poem without stopping between the two parts as was indicated by an ellipsis, marking a change, in tone and intention, in the written text of the poem. In the written text, the poem is tied to an elliptical poetic syntax and to a reader-oriented, extensible temporality. This discrepancy could be due to the urgent and compelling immediacy of the poet’s time-bound oral reading.


This introductory paper to Hill’s poetry tried to demostrate that through his poetic techniques and shifting poetic personae, Hill uses words as a moral philosopher to emphasize his awareness and civic responsibility in front of history’s heft based on his phenomenology. The implication for the reader is to study history, linked with linguistics, in order to re-evaluate historical facts and political contingencies, and re-shape them in written form which, for Hill, constitute the foundations of civic action. The poet’s awareness of the weight of the world, through the Piagetian processes of internalised abstract thought from which his values emanate, allows him to write about the impending weight of the world.


Through his identification with and internalization of the historical or political contingencies that are, at first, exterior to the self, Hill attains a state of transcendent no-thingness that is the “non-self” allowing him to purify himself of guilt and become non-judgmental. He is, then, able to carry the weight of the world with his words and his shifting poetic persona(e). As he writes in sequence 20 of “The Argument of the Masque” in Scenes from Comus (2005): “That weight of the world, weight of the word, is. / Not wholly irreconciliable. Almost. / Almost we cannot pull free; almost we escape… .” (BH, p. 430) through poetry.


As seen in Section LXX of The Triumph of Love, for Hill, the intrinsic value of words, through their etymology and historical usage, can be both agent and predicate, leading us to action for the common weal. Hill is, thus, able to transcend his deep-seated scepticism through a leap of faith that is linked with his interaction with the different layers of language and etymology.


In his later poetry and in Speech! Speech! the poet moves from a stance of consciousness of man’s fallibility which fills him with guilt to an objectified state of guiltless “non-self”, devoid of passion and guilt, that allows him to think, imagine, empathize, write, and criticize the world’s atrocities which he writes about in “September Song” “On Reading Blake: Prophet Against Empire” and “Broken Hierarchies.” As Hill progresses to a state of “non-self” in his later work, it is to be noted that he does not abandon the use of his poetic techniques and imagery but continues to use them despite his renunciation. In theological terms, he attains atonement from sin through self-sacrifice and the negation of the self’s egotism, a process of iinteriorization, through which Hill, as everyman, attains communion and compassion.


He states in “Poetry as ‘Menace’ and ‘Atonement’” : “Ideally, … my theme would be simple… that the technical perfecting of a poem is an act of atonement, in the radical etymological sense — an act of at-one-ment, a setting at one, a bringing into concord, a reconciling, a uniting in harmony… ” (CCW, p. 4). For Hill, words are the world.


In “Poetry and Value”, he further emphasizes his deep conviction: “… ‘intrinsic value’ is a form of technical integrity that is itself a form of common honesty.” (CCW, p. 481). Hill thinks that words are the mediators between linguistic technicalities, like Hopkins’ instress and inscape, and the poet’s internal values that spring from the cognitive processes of his reciprocal thinking. In the above essay, Hill refers to the second edition of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection to ascertain that language does not emanate from reflection but is inherent within the activity of reflection itself. As Coleridge wrote: “’For if words are not THINGS, they are LIVING POWERS, by which the things of the most importance to mankind are actuated, combined, and humanized.’” (CCW, pp. 488-489).


Ford, James L. and Mary K. eds. Every Day in the Year: A Poetical Epitome of the World’s History (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1902), or www.bartleby.com/297/483/html

Hill, Geoffrey. Collected Critical Writings, ed. Kenneth Haynes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Hill, Geoffrey. Broken Hierarchies, Poems 1952-2012 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Raine, Kathleen. William Blake (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2014)


Dr. Emily Bilman is London’s Poetry Society Stanza representative and hosts poetry meetings in her home in Geneva. She earned her PhD from East Anglia U where she taught literature. Her dissertation entitled, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published in 2010. Modern Ekphrasis, dealing with the poetry-painting analogy from Plato to Derrida, was published by Peter Lang, Switzerland in 2013. Her ms. Melville’s Metaphysics and The Ambiguity of Good and Evil is still unpublished. Her poems are published in The London Magazine, The Linnet’s Wings, Hunger Mountain, Offshoots VII & XII, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, Iodine, Aois 21, The Battersea Review, San Diego Poetry Annual in America, and The Inspired Heart Vols. 1, 2, & 3, Ygdrasil, Tuck Magazine, Snob.ru, The Journal of Poetics Research, and www.ekphrastic.net in Canada. She writes for and edits the digital publication www.paintedpoetry.org. Her poetry books, A Woman By A Well and Resilience, are published by Matador, UK. She was recently awarded the first prize for ‘The Tear-Catcher’ by The New York Literary Magazine and her poems were broadcast on Bashani Radio, New York. She blogs on http://www.emiliebilman.wix.com/emily-bilman

  Author Photo

Dr Emily Bilman


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