David Yezzi on the late great Geoffrey Hill: “He was that rarest of things: a musician of genius.”

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The multi-faceted Yezzi at Hopkins…

Poet, librettist, and playwright David Yezzi, a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, writes about the late great Geoffrey Hill in the New Criterion, where he is poetry editor: “I remember him scolding an audience once for needing poems to be ‘What’s the word?’ he growled. ‘Accessible?’ He drew out the vowels like they were poison on his tongue. So much for any hope of wide popularity.”

More from Yezzi about the English poet who died earlier this month:

“He was not a popular poet, to that the extent that poets can be popular, and in a sense he was not of his time. If this rankled him at all, it did not affect the way that he wrote. One gets the sense in reading Hill that he did not measure his poems by any contemporary lights but by his eminent precursors and sometime models such as Hopkins, Milton, and, more recently, the modernism of Tate and Eliot. His poems are moral without being religious in any conventional sense, skeptical of power and the duplicity of language, and tonally fluent in ways that recall both the Jeremiad and the Psalm.

Asked if he liked a particularly severe photograph of himself, he replied: "It terrifies me."

Not popular, and he didn’t care about it.

“He was that rarest of things: a musician of genius, able to strike in language a new “pitch” (his prized word adapted from Hopkins). Perhaps that is why he was so little known in the end; his copious and original gift was for something that few readers of poetry and even many poets truly understand, let alone value—a language able to convey precise shades of emotion through sound as well as sense. It is telling of how dependent poetry has become on subject matter to the exclusion of much else these days. It’s not that Hill has no subjects; quite the contrary. His books range over huge spans of history, literature, and intellectual life. He is also one of the greatest pastoral poets of the English landscape.”

Read the whole thing here, with links to poems, reviews by William Logan, and an additional essay by Yezzi.

 


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