Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Unpublished Geoffrey Hill

   On the eve of the publication of Hill's definitive Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 (the OUP website says - frustratingly - "estimated Nov '13" although someone posted a photo of the book on Twitter the other day), here's a typescript of a poem from the same year as the earliest in the new collection, one that wasn't included in For the Unfallen and as far as I know is previously unpublished.
   I found it in an auction-catalogue sent to me earlier this year by a friend who works at Bonhams (thanks Peter) showing the sale of 'The Roy Davids Collection of Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets', a tremendous gathering mainly of handwritten and typed poems by their original authors, everyone from Pope and MacGonagall to Peter Redgrove and Craig Raine.
    What strikes one about 'Frazer' is, above all, how unstriking it is, compared to almost all of Hill's published oeuvre. While clearly linked to the obsessive martial and elegiac themes of For the Unfallen, a volume preoccupied with the moral aftermath of two World Wars and the Holocaust, the poem lacks the tensed, compacted quality of other early work, where the language and imagery seems folded back on itself as it wrestles over fraught historical quandaries. 'Frazer' never rises to this complexity: in its attempt to write a poem apparently from inside the theatre of war itself, modelled on the WW2 poets Keith Douglas and Sidney Keyes, Hill ironically comes up with something less intense and convincing than in other pieces which employ imaginative reconstruction and retrospective commentary to far more powerful effect. 

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