Sir Geoffrey Hill , the poet, died last Thursday. RIP.
as E.J.Thribb would have begun.)
He was a difficult poet, who had no interest in not being difficult. (“Impenetrable”;”more and more oblique”, I read in his obituary.) He scoffed at the criticism that he should be more ‘accessible’: “The word accessible is fine its place; that is to say, public toilets should be accessible to people in wheelchairs”; but it was not a word to be applied to poetry.
Years ago I went to see him at the National Theatre. He looked puzzled, even disturbed, that there should be an audience, listening to him, applauding him; bewildered.
He was from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire; the first place I lived in after leaving home at the age of 18.
The other Bromsgrove poet is A.E.Housman. I think that he, too, was puzzled to find himself a popular poet; but his work is quite different, mostly using simple words in simple forms. Despite (because of?) its pessimism his work struck a chord, and soldiers carried A Shropshire Lad to the Boer War and to the battlefields of the Great War.
On Poetry Being Difficult
Imagine you’re a physicist
Working on the Hadron Collider;
Trying to explain tetraquarks:
X(4140), X(4274), X(4500), X(4700)
Each one containing a unique combination
Of two charm quarks and two strange quarks;
The first four-quark particles found to be composed
entirely of heavy quarks.
(And now- Gee! – pentaquarks.)
You’d have to be an insider
Using a language the rest of us don’t understand.
We’re just not in the same ballpark.
Accessibility comes later; if at all;
But you’re still a kind of hero.
So it is with poetry.
Why should anyone care, these days,
About the Plantagenet Kings?
And, if we do, why should we care
That the poet tangles his thoughts into sonnet-form?
We like it served plain:
26,000 men were killed at Towton.
The blood of the slain lay caked with snow.
When the snow melted, the blood flowed
Along the furrows and the ditches
For a distance of two to three miles;
Or, if you prefer, 6,400 to 9,600 metres.
Housmanesque Epitaph on Geoffrey Hill
He, in the days when poets were striving
To make their work obscure, unread,
Contrived to make a decent living;
Took his wages, and is dead.
He, thinking of Europe’s tragic histories,
Dipped his pen in fire, in blood;
Wrote of the forgotten; wrote of mysteries:
Several great works; a few duds.