cover image A Treatise of Civil Power

A Treatise of Civil Power

Geoffrey Hill, . . Yale, $16 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-300-13149-9

Angry and learned, Hill’s seventh book of new poems in 10 years should delight his admirers; its self-contained pentameter stanzas, surprisingly friendly tone and gemlike images also make it the best way into the late work of this poet whom critics such as Harold Bloom have placed in the lineage of Milton and Blake. Hill’s obsessions include the martyrs and poets of the English Renaissance, representations of classical music in poetry and his own advancing age, about which his new poems carry sad jokes. “People keep asking why your lyric mojo/ atrophied at around ninety,” the poet (in truth, aged 75) complains, then adds, “invention reinvents itself/ every so often in the line of death.” Elsewhere he writes about rereading famous works of literary criticism, and memorializes dead friends in fine elegies. In this book, Hill succeeds in mixing personal sentiment with grave pronouncements about morality and history. “There’s an unfinished psalm doing the rounds/ in the vicinity of my skull,” one sequence declares; in one of the book’s multitudinous layers of meaning, Hill may, or may not, be speaking in the voice of the English conqueror Oliver Cromwell, whose military government had fallen apart when Milton wrote the polemic from which Hill’s book takes its name. (Jan.)