Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review by FC Lee of Without Title by Geoffrey Hill

I lack the knowledge to appreciate this poetry collection by the acclaimed British poet, Geoffrey Hill. Reading it, I felt the same confusion that I sometimes feel reading T. S. Eliot. But when reading Eliot, I am less lost than I was here, and the beauty of Eliot's language holds me even when I am lost. This did not. I perceived that the author was serious in his intent; that he liked wordplay; that these poems speak of mortality, old age, and poetry itself. Yet I found the poems inaccessible, and was moved only rarely (usually by references to nature: plants, trees, birds).

A less ignorant reader would presumably like these poems better. The start of the first poem in the collection may be enough to determine this. The poem is titled "Improvisation on 'O Welt ich muss dich lassen'" and the opening four lines are:

     Traurig as one is between bearers, dancers,
     old comrades from the Crem or at the Palais,
     that's not the issue. Can't decide among
     the cheap comedians. I do panic.

With the aid of the internet, I deciphered the German in the title and the poem's first word, yet even then remained largely baffled.

The poems I liked best were "The Jumping Boy," which has a lightness to it as it returns (I think) to the narrator's childhood; "Offertorium: Suffolk, July 2003," with its specific, detailed invocation of nature; the brief, melancholic "Luxe, Calme et Volupte," and "Epiphany at Hurcott," especially for its lovely last line, which could almost be a minimalist poem by itself:

    The lake, reflective, floats, brimfull, its tawny sky.

--Mary Soon Lee

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