cover image Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Geoffrey Hill, . . Yale Univ., $35 (276pp) ISBN 978-0-300-12156-8

Is Hill the greatest living English poet? Many critics (including Harold Bloom) have said as much, since the 1970s, when a few dense books inspired transatlantic admiration. After four decades with just five books, the past 10 years have seen Hill offer six more, including a trio of long works some liken to Dante and Blake. This first selected since 1994 (and first since his move to Yale as his U.S. publisher) should get instant critical attention (and sustained academic adoption) even though it contains no new work. Here, entire, is Mercian Hymns , with its gorgeously medievalized evocation of a rural English upbringing. Here, complete, are all three recent long poems, with their erudite mix of elegy and jeremiad: “Age of mass consent: go global with her,” Hill admonishes himself in “Speech! Speech!” “Challenge satellite failure, the primal/ violent day-star moody as Herod./ Forget nothing. Reprieve no one.” Here are his late intimations of mortality: “Last days, last things, loom on: I write/ to astonish myself.” Here, too, are the descriptive beauties that sparkle through even Hill's most rebarbative works: in a rural lane, “the mass-produced wax berries, and perhaps/ an unearthed wasps' nest like a paper skull,/ where fragile cauls of cobweb start to shine.” (Mar.)