Tuesday 1 May 2012

Geoffrey Hill, Laureate of Rain

With rain continuing to lash much of the country, my mind turned to the poetry of rain - and thereby to Geoffrey Hill. Our Greatest Living Poet is a veritable laureate of rain. Rain is his res, his thing; no one writes better about English rain in its various moods, its coming and going, its effects on light and leaf and landscape. Skimming through the Selected Works, I compiled this mini-anthology of Hill on Rain, some poetical succour for these drenched days...

'But leave it now, leave it; as you left
a washed-out day at Stourport or the Lickey,
improvised rainhats mulch for papier-mache,
and the chips floating.
Leave it now, leave it; give it over
to that all-gathering general English light,
in which each separate bead
of drizzle at its own thorn-tip stands
as revelation.'
[From The Triumph of Love, which begins and ends with the glorious line 'Sun-blazed, over Romsley, a livid rain-scarp']

 'Memory worsening - let it go as rain
 streams on half-visible clatter of the wind
                lapsing and rising,
 that clouds the pond's green mistletoe of spawn,
 seeps among nettle-beds and rust-brown sorrel,
 perpetual ivy burrowed by weak light...'

'First day of the first week: rain
on perennial ground cover, a sheen
like oil of verdure where the rock shows through;
dark ochre patched more dark, with stubborn glaze;
rough soggy drystone clinging to the fell,
broken by hawthorns...'
[from Speech! Speech!]

 'Two nights' and three days' rain, with the Hodder
 well up, over its alder roots; tumblings
 of shaly late storm light; the despised
 ragwort, luminous, standing out,
 stereoscopically, across twenty yards,
 on the farther bank. The congregants
 of air and water, of swift reflection,
 vanish between the brightness and shadow...'
 [from The Orchards of Syon]

 'Sage-green through olive to oxidised copper,
the rainward stone tower-face. Graveyard
blossom comes off in handfuls; the lilac
turned overnight a rough tobacco brown.
Every few minutes the drizzle shakes itself like a dog...'
 In Ipsley Church Lane, 2]

 'For rain-sprigged yew trees, blockish as they guard
 admonitory sparse berries, atrorubent
 stone holt of darkness, no, of claustral light...'

 'When to depict rain - heavy rain - it stands
in dense verticals diagonally lashed,
chalk-white yet with the chalk translucent;
the roadway sprouts a thousand flowerets,
storm-paddies instantly reaped, replenished,
and again cut down:
the holding burden of a wistaria,
drape amid drape, the sodden
copia of all things flashing and drying:
first here after the storm these butterflies
fixed on each jinking run,
probing, priming, then leaping back,
a babble of silent tongues;
and the flint church also choiring
into dazzle...' [Broken Hierarchies]

 There - feels better already, doesn't it?


  1. From the interview with Geoffrey Hill in Standpoint, July 2010:

    Outside, a waterfall from a blocked gutter flowed down the kitchen window. Three sodden and rather stately sheep trooped by in single file. Geoffrey looked at me across the table and nodded with satisfaction. "I love weather like this," he said, "Don't you?"

    So there's someone happy, then.

  2. Ah, bless him! Thanks Jonathan.