Interviewed in 1966, Geoffrey Hill said, 'Language contains everything you want - history, sociology, economics: it is a kind of drama of human destiny'. This book shows how the work of one of the major post-war writers in English has been charged by a mythological sense of language's historical drama, by reading the whole body of Hill's poetry from sixty years against a tradition of visionary poet-philologists that he himself has delineated. That line runs from the
present-day editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, through Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Chenevix Trench in the Victorian era, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the early nineteenth century, and ultimately back to Saint Augustine's theory of language. Through detailed close readings of Hill's work
and its scholarly inspirations, and extensive fresh archival research, new light is shed upon poetry's relation to lexicography, etymology, and theological understandings of language. Key themes include language's fallenness from prelapsarian origins, its infection and enrichment by original sin and error, the possible recovery of its pristine origins through surrogates such as music, Hebrew, or the language of angels, and its status as an arena of political and historical contestation. The
book considers a wider range of Hill's writings, in greater detail, than criticism of his work has so far done, and it is the first to make substantial use of recently available archive materials. It thereby presents one of the fullest and most authoritative accounts of the work of a living writer in
Matthew Sperling is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the University of Reading. Before this, he taught at the University of Oxford, having studied there, at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, and at Gravesend Grammar School. He has had works of poetry, fiction, and criticism published; his critical works include the essay collection Geoffrey Hill and his Contexts (co-edited with Piers Pennington, 2011), and essays on poets Roy Fisher and J.H. Prynne, on the index as a critical tool, and on modern book history. His current research is concerned with recent poetry and the history of publishing. He was born in Kent in 1982, and lives in London.
Introduction ; 1. The Oxford English Dictionary ; 2. Richard Chenevix Trench ; 3. Coleridge's Philosophy of Language ; 4. Etymology, Plain Speaking, Diligence, and Order ; 5. The Theology of Language I: Sin and Fall ; 6. The Theology of Language II: Prelapsarian Language ; BIBLIOGRAPHY