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Defending PoetryArt and Ethics in Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Geoffrey Hill$
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David-Antoine Williams

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199583546

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199583546.001.0001

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Geoffrey Hill: A ‘Question of Value’

Geoffrey Hill: A ‘Question of Value’

(p.159) 4 Geoffrey Hill: A ‘Question of Value’
Defending Poetry

David‐Antoine Williams (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter investigates Geoffrey Hill's abiding concern with the equation of semantic and ethical recognition, his experience of language as an arena in which our ethical being is both menaced and succoured, though perhaps not secured. Hill's cogitations on this problem accompany a career‐long exploration of the question of intrinsic value, a concept which he admits has gone out of fashion but which he nonetheless attempts to rescue for his theory of language. Hill's ethics of responsibility requires that literature memorialize and memorize the dead, but his scepticism about the ability of language to do justice to its subjects forces him into a paradoxical contemplation of silence as the only responsible speech. Even so, the question of value has increasingly been posed by Hill in its public dimension, as embodying the union of civic (including political), theological (including metaphysical), and grammatical (including etymological) thought. One way Hill thinks the writer can realize intrinsic value is in the assiduous plying of words, the working in poetry of their etymology, grammar, and syntax into a high semantic pitch; this chapter pays special attention to the words that have meant the most to Hill: ‘value’, ‘atonement’, ‘endurance’, ‘patience’, ‘attention’, ‘justice’, ‘grace’, ‘pitch’, ‘common’, and ‘alienation’.

Keywords:   Hill, Hopkins, Whitman, Eliot, intrinsic value, original sin, atonement, difficulty, responsibility, endurance, alienation, silence, suffering, memory, memorial, etymology, pitch, Holocaust, Steiner, Ricoeur, Adorno

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