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5.0 out of 5 stars The Matter of England, 24 Mar. 2008
By 
Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Treatise of Civil Power (Paperback)
It's very hard to write a review that does justice to the intellectual content of Geoffrey Hill's recent work. He is, without doubt, one of the singular poetic voices of his generation. However, reading the poetry, and being complicit as a modern inhabitant of Hill's vision of England places the reader in a location that is neither comfortable nor secure. As he points out in the poem `On Reading Milton and the English Revolution', `England / can do without most of us'.

This is unusual because Hill's work, while being powerfully rooted in theology and history, and in the tonal music of sixteenth and seventeenth century English, is also securely provincial English in its location. Hill's poetry, especially in the 1970 `Mercian Hymns' is a voice for a version of the West Midlands, a borderland caught between ancient landscapes and the wild forces of modern industrialism, haunted in this volume and elsewhere by the long shadow of dark age kingdoms, and the cultural and trading energy of Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.

Hill's sensibility is also haunted by the two world wars; his is a Worcestershire whose woods and copses evoke the shattered trees of Passchendaele and the Somme. His recent volumes share with Tom Paulin's `The Invasion Handbook' the poetic power of World War 2 in the modern mind. In this collection, the war is connoted by references to Alanbrookes' diary, Werner von Braun and Willy Brandt's penance at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial in 1970.

The dominant figure of the collection is Milton, who, on his 400th anniversary, permeates the collection from its title (taken from one of his pamphlets) to the political and spiritual imperatives it embodies. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Miltonic (and Blakean) theme is the intertextuality of reading his namesake Christopher Hill's `Milton and the English Revolution' along with Edmund Burke and Michael Horowitz' `Children of Albion'. Hill also makes the most powerful poetic engagement with the figure of Cromwell in poetry since Brendan Kennelly in 1987, not being above playful references to the portrayal of Cromwell by Richard Harris in the 1970 film. Characteristically, these are juxtaposed with Helen Mirren's Elizabeth II, which seems ironically dangled as an example of modern England's political complacency and crushing anti-intellectualism.

It is hard to comment on the immense subtleties of style, but the poems dedicated to Handel and Brahms suggest an echo of James Joyce's balance between images, connotations and closely observed musicality. The high intellectualism of the poetry is a counterpoint to the rugged dialect of provincial English, most memorably in this collection snatches of the Bible in the neo-Anglo-Saxon dialect of the Black Country.

In all, the collection is something of a psychogeography of English radicalism, acknowledging the tangled landscape of poetry in English which includes the presence of Whitman, Housman and Hopkins. Hill continues his anatomy of modern England in the role of a besieged defender of the European intellectual tradition. Like Stanley Spencer, who is a slight but significant presence in the collection, Hill is renewing its vigour with a graceful juxtaposition of the localised and the universal.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of the mental landscape, 12 Oct. 2011
By 
Ross A. Mccague (Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Treatise of Civil Power (Paperback)
I have found this work more accessible than the Day Books published so far in that he explores ideas in a more discursive manner that gives thought, lyricism and discourse a strong and balanced role here. The poems work more in the manner of the moderns like Yeats and Eliot without the contorted twisting of syntax and line that comes after in Clavics and other published excerpts from the new work I've seen. I enjoyed the meditative, resonant quality of the concepts and imagery presented here.
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A Treatise of Civil Power
A Treatise of Civil Power by Geoffrey Hill (Paperback - 2 Aug. 2007)
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