Geoffrey Hill’s handsome and brutish new poems are fragments of his old covenant with language: in Canaan the rough verse measures a private poetry in public themes.[1] The lowlands of Canaan were promised the Israelites before their forty-year diet of manna (how dreadful the stuff must have tasted), the land of redemption Moses could gesture toward but never reach. Redemption is not the subject of Hill’s poetry so much as its sin (his difficulty is his greatest conceit): he is one of the last poets to believe language is the proper site of faith, that nothing except language will redeem the betrayals of the tongue.


Aspiring Grantham
rises above itself.
Tall churches wade the fen
on their stilts of glass.


Crowned Ely stands beset
by winds of straw-burning,
by the crouched run of flame.
Cambridge lies...

 
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