Thou say’st my lines are hard;
And I the truth will tell;
They are both hard, and marr’d
If thou not read’st them well.
‘To my ill Reader’, Robert Herrick
We are attached to poets by the instance in our lives when we encounter them. Every reader may name writers who shaped their apprehension, writers whose production tracks along with their life. Hill, twenty years older than me, is one such writer—for four decades I’ve read along with each new book. As with many American readers, he came to my attention first through Somewhere Is Such a Kingdom: Poems 1952-1971
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), a paperback I purchased in the summer of 1976. Hill’s bearded, leather-jacketed picture completely filled the back cover; the introduction by Harold Bloom loudly proclaimed: ‘Strong poetry is always difficult, and Geoffrey Hill is the strongest British poet now alive.’ There is no telling how much distortion was introduced by this essay (and photograph!), which was also printed in the tabloid American Poetry Review
. I find little now that corresponds with the way I feel about Hill’s work, except perhaps that one should keep in mind while reading him the major English Romantic poets. In the Biographia
Coleridge writes of Wordsworth’s first poems in terms that might apply to Hill:
‘The language was not only peculiar and strong, but at times knotty and contorted, as by its own impatient strength; while the novelty and struggling crowd of images, acting in conjunction with ...
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