On Encountering Geoffrey Hill
First encounters are rarely more potent or touched by magic than when we are young. Our gates are wide open. We are not yet too cynical. We carry little baggage. If ever we are idealistic and inclined to dream, and to find heroes, it’s then, in adolescence above all, when the sap courses through us. Our minds at that time are like an old-fashioned dark room where negatives are turned into monochrome prints, stark black-and-white truths, that rarely lose their potency. We make converts of ourselves to an idea.
My first encounter with Geoffrey Hill came at such a time. It was an immediate conversion. I had some baggage but not much. I was about as green as it gets. I had spent very little time outside my native Wales, where my grammar school education helped me develop a passion for the poets. Like Jeffrey Wainwright, who has written so well about the experience it feels reckless to trespass in his footsteps, and like Jon Glover, and many another, I attended Hill’s survey lectures at Leeds.
In my case, it was the autumn term of 1965. The poet had not published much by that date. I knew him only from the anthologies of Alvarez and Allott. Such was my baggage and in it too the poetry of Dylan Thomas and of R.S. Thomas weighed heavily. Little did I know how much those two Thomases meant and would mean to Hill. He had heard Dylan Thomas read at Oxford and was struck, he later told ...
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