Geoffrey Hill, The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin
, edited by Kenneth Haynes (OUP, 2019)
At first glance, The Book of Baruch
might seem a curate’s egg: ‘Fox faeces and lavender in a beribboned box return to sender.’ (180). Parts appear deeply personal:
Can recall, in Lewis’s restaurant, Brum—last time before that terminator of a
bomb (we were there on a rare jaunt)—a man with a crop of red grapes
sprouting from the integument behind one ear. I felt a chemical desire
to tug and caress that rubberoid mass: it has been a lifetime’s obsession
I cannot explain; again I feel the saliva begin to run.
Starting from a memory, this single verse-line leapfrogs the anecdotal to prod and probe the powers of disgust. To speak of a ‘crop’, rather than a bunch or cluster of red grapes brings oddly to mind the gullet or craw of a bird. Insofar as grapes are literally mouth-watering, they are rendered all the more revolting when applied figuratively to a disfigurement. The word ‘sprouting’, heightened by contrast with the Latinate ‘integument’, gives the man’s tumour a foul vitality. The ‘chemical desire’ shows something strongly involuntary at work. Disgust clashes with morbid fascination and pity in the contrasting volition of the two infinitives (‘to tug and caress’) where that conjunction ‘and’ is more alarming than would be ‘or’. The suffix in ‘rubberoid’ works acoustically to conjure the pertinent word ‘haemorrhoid’, whilst the use of the word ‘mass’, following as it does the ‘red grapes’, may ...
The page you have requested is restricted to subscribers only. Please enter your username and password and click on 'Continue'.
If you have forgotten your username and password, please enter the email address you used when you joined. Your login
details will then be emailed to the address specified.
If you are already a member and have not received your login details, please email us,
including your name and address, and we will supply you with details of how to access the archived material.
If you are not a member and would like to enjoy the growing online archive of Stand Magazine
, containing poems, articles, prose and reviews,
why not subscribe
to the website today?