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Modern English War Poetry$
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Tim Kendall

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199562022

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199562022.001.0001

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Geoffrey Hill's Debts

Geoffrey Hill's Debts

(p.217) 11 Geoffrey Hill's Debts
Modern English War Poetry

Tim Kendall (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the war poetry of Geoffrey Hill. Hill's is a poetry of witness which, in all but a manner of speaking, ‘wasn't there’. That crucial fact of absence is never disguised. He observes earlier in The Triumph of Love, ‘If witness meant witness, all could be martyrs’: his awareness of etymological kinship discovers in the past a point of convergence for his correlated explorations of the poetry of war and the psychology of religious martyrdom. That witness no longer means witness (except in a manner of speaking often voiced by Hill) is a circumstance that he might be expected to deplore, having stated in 1981 that ‘The history of the creation and the debasement of words is a paradigm of the loss of the kingdom of innocence and original justice’. Some of Hill's admirers have been too credulous of the linguistic and religious claims made by such a self-consciously post-lapsarian vision, having never thought to enquire when and where this ‘kingdom of innocence and original justice’ existed. Whether the meaning of words is debased or evolves over time is a debate which never touches the poet's confidence that ‘sematology is a theological dimension’.

Keywords:   war poetry, Geoffrey Hill, witness

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