THE ORCHARDS OF SYON
Wildly allusive, painfully self-aware and on occasion radiant, this long and winding poem in 72 blank-verse sections completes a trilogy of personal long poems from the frighteningly learned English poet, long in residence in Boston. Having admired Hill's meticulous lyric for three decades, poets and critics on both sides of the Atlantic were startled by 1998's forthright The Triumph of Love, a book-length poem about history, memory, violence, Christianity, contemporary Britain and Hill's own career (he teaches at Boston University). That book and its successor, Speech! Speech! (2000), showed a poet with great gifts, but one so absorbed by his topical complaints and idiosyncratic learning that his work seemed brilliant but overambitious, and perhaps too much to navigate. Hill's new volume retains its predecessors' range of reference (Bach, Coleridge, minor prophets, Methodist hymns, Leopardi, Heine, Frank O'Hara, D.H. Lawrence, Ingmar Bergman and more). Where Speech! tended wryly toward rant, the new books shows its aging poet-hero finding, if fitfully, happiness, pastoral space and consolation, as the title, and the recurrent mention of Hopkins's "Goldengrove," imply. Some segments suggest a tour of rural and suburban England ("the breadth of this/ autumnal land"); others celebrate earlier artists' "resounding mastery of things hard laboured" or mourn "through a high formal keening." Finally, Hill contemplates his advancing years, and his poetic projects, with a remarkable music and a rueful look at his own ambitions: "I can see only so far; I can say/ only so much." (Mar.)
Forecast:Hill published an average of a book a decade before Triumph, and moved from Houghton Mifflin to Counterpoint for Speech!.This better and easier fourth book in six years (counting 1997's Cannan) should provoke a few major assessments of Hill's career.
Release date: 02/01/2002