One of Those Things


One of Those Things That Give One Pause

As I was leaving the house this morning, I saw a package on the doorstep that meant the library had delivered a book I had requested--the only book this library had by Geoffrey Hill, The Triumph of Love (and there are other more deplorable omissions, too many to recount). This book is a sequence poem that is nearly impenetrable in its complexity (a cursory reading shows).

I opened the book at random and flipped through to see if there was any section of it that simply made grammatical sense in English. (I'm delighted to say that there are.) In so doing I happened upon this:

from The Triumph of Love Geoffrey Hill

Whatever may be meant by moral landscape,
it is for me increasingly a terrain
seen in cross-section: igneous, sedimentary,
conglomerate, metamorphic rock-
strata, in which particular grace,
individual love, decency, endurance,
are traceable across the faults.

I am disappointed. This, one of our most erudite poets--obscure to the point of "Wastelandism"--brilliant, intellectual, and profound, makes an enormous blunder for the sound of the words. Here the major sin is in the litany of rock-types. We have igneous, sedimentary, conglomerate, and metamorphic, implying a four-fold division. In fact, conglomerate is a type of sedimentary creating a hidden redundancy. A proper catalogue would have said something like "granite, gneiss, conglomerate and schist." Or perhaps we could have used more erudite terms for some of the same "hawaiite (or alaskite), augengneiss, conglomerate, and eclogite." We would have attained the same obscurity, perhaps even greater obscurity, and retained the typing. For those unacquainted with geology, let me move the list to another more familiar field to make clear where I see the problem. It would be as though one were listing the amniote vertebrates and one were to say, "Reptiles, Birds, Flamingos, and Mammals."

A minor point, and this post was originally of much greater length and much less charity. But I suppose what I want to get at is that a reader entrusts him or herself to the writer's hands. One wishes them to be both clean and certain; a slip such as this makes one suspect the latter quality.

Let us draw a curtain of charity over this admittedly very minor oversight. I will speak more of the whole sequence when I've had a chance to read it more reflectively.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 29, 2002 8:12 AM.

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