Geoffrey Hill, despite being virtually unknown in the public today, is without question of the greatest, if not the greatest, living poets writing in the English language. In this poem, Hill writes of the French poet Charles Peguy, mixing French and English sensibility with a skill seldom seen before. As with all of Hill's works, the poem is a meditation on life, death, ethics, memory and the role of art and the artist in all of this. Hill's poetry continually seeks to enact what it says -- his use of rhythm and rhyme will delight, but also instruct. Young poets have much to learn from this maestro, and we will be hearing much more about him in the future. Sadly, as is always the case, the world recognizes its true artists too late. Of Hill's other works, his greatest masterpieces are Mercian Hymns (found in his "Collected Poems") and "The Triumph of Love" (available separately). His most recent work is "The Orchards of Syon", and he has written two volumes of dense criticism, mainly on 16th/17th c. English literature.
The first lines of "The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy":
Crack of a starting-pistol. Jean Jaures
dies in a wine-puddle. Who or what stares
through the cafe-window creped in powder-smoke?
The bill for the new farce reads Sleepers Awake.
History commands the stage wielding a toy gun,
rehearsing another scene. It has raged so before,
countless times; and will do, countless times more,
in the guise of supreme clown, dire tragedian.