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sod off. SOD OFF

July 3, 2016

A really encouraging truth is that people who are intellectually terrifying often have a wicked sense of humour. The joy that there is more than one way to relate to someone  – that I don’t have to match their intellect so long as we can have a laugh.

Geoffrey Hill made me laugh during a poetry reading at the Serpentine (video posted below). Minutes before imitating the angel of Poetry who yells SOD OFF, he told London’s cultural elite:

“My belief that nothing more demonstrates the nature of the plutocratic anarchy that we are currently inhabiting than something by De Sade, such as The 120 Days of Sodom.”

At university I wrote my dissertation on his poetry and later I was blessed to become his friend. The way he used language gave words integrity.

Below I post an extract of an interview he gave and two of his poems (which happen to be my favourite).

“My interest in the Elizabethan Jesuits, and in particular Robert Southwell and Edmund Campion, is that they seem to me to be transcendently fine human beings whom one would have loved to have known. The knowledge that they could so sublimate or transcend their ordinary mortal feelings as to willingly undertake the course they took, knowing what the almost inevitable end would be, moves me to reverence for them as human beings and to a kind of absolute astonishment. The very fact that they lived ennobles the human race, which is so often ignoble.”

Funeral Music VIII

Not as we are but as we must appear,
Contractual ghosts of pity; not as we
Desire life but as they would have us live,
Set apart in timeless colloquy.
So it is required; so we bear witness,
Despite ourselves, to what is beyond us,
Each distant sphere of harmony forever
Poised, unanswerable. If it is without
Consequence when we vaunt and suffer, or
If it is not, all echoes are the same
In such eternity. Then tell me, love,
How that should comfort us—or anyone
Dragged half-unnerved out of this worldly place,
Crying to the end ‘I have not finished’.

Lachrimae Amantis

What is there in my heart
that you should sue so fiercely for its love?
What kind of care brings you
as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.

So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered “your lord is coming, he is close”

that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
“tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.”


RIP Geoffrey Hill

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