Sunday 19 June 2022

Unquenchable Superabundance

 In the course of thinning out my bookshelves, I have just 'let go', after a short struggle, my big fat two-volume Browning, partly because of its condition, but largely because, well, who needs two fat volumes of Browning? Apart from 'The Ring and the Book', Volume Two contains little that is likely ever to interest anyone outside academe – 'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society' anyone? 'Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, or Turf and Towers'? 'Pacchiarotto, and How He Worked in Distemper, et Cetera'? No, surely a judicious one-volume selection of Browning's best would be enough for anyone... Which made me think of Geoffrey Hill (who would have been 90 today). He wrote enough to fill two volumes almost as fat as my Browning, but would his Volume Two be of much more interest or appeal than Browning's? I'm quite sure that Hill's poetry will last, but what will last, and deserve to last, will be, I think, his earlier work, up to and including the two great long poems, 'The Triumph of Love' and 'The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy', and the little flurry of later short poems. After that, as with Browning, prolixity – or, more kindly, sheer unquenchable superabundance – takes over, and the returns diminish. Not that it matters: by that time, Hill had done enough, as Browning had, to secure his place among the greats.  

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