THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE by Geoffrey Hill
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A Boston Univ. teacher for the past decade, the British poet is something of a reverse Eliot: he provides the counter-truths to Eliot's Anglophilic religiosity, and an even stronger poetic antidote to his anti-Semitism. In this book-length poem, which stands in relation to the Second World War much as The Waste Land does to the First, Hill meditates on his philo-Semitism, based on his Christian understanding of religious history, his marriage, and his dismay at the Anglican Church's lack of pride or shame. In tones melancholic, obsessive, and relentlessly metaphysical, Hill engages the sorry history of his homeland, a country with ""many memorials but no memory,"" and the appeasements of Chamberlain that get lost in Britain's ""narrow miracle of survival."" Mocking his ""rancourous"" self and acknowledging his critics, Hill seamlessly and properly integrates self-reflection into this masterwork, and wonders if it's ""incantation or incontinence."" In his fierce moral imagination (itself ""an eccentric failure""), poetry is ""a sad and angry consolation."" Throughout this long but never dull sequence, Hill argues with the whole of Western civilization, which he incorporates with nimble fingers and never wears heavily on his sleeve. His ""splenetics"" derive, his errata tell us, from a hard-earned skepticism (""For hardness of heart read costly dislike of cant"") that inoculates him from the silliness of other engaged poets (""If/ witness meant witness, all could be martyrs""). For all his outrage and learning, his wit and craft, Hill keeps his faith, his belief in ""particular grace,/individual love, decency, endurance."" Hill's world-historical sensibility--and unfailing skill as a poet--make him Nobel class.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1998
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin