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Uncommon Equivocation in Geoffrey Hill

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Abstract This essay considers Hill’s expression “common equivocation,” which he associates with Richard Hooker. The expression comes about as a response to Christopher Ricks’s admiration of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In that late poem Ricks finds that Eliot has confidence in clichés, “in their generous common humanity.” Hill responds by asking Ricks to think about how this expression would fare within the field of Hooker’s “common equivocation.” But what is “common equivocation?” Is Hill guilty of it as a poet? Or does he practice something else? I argue that he practices “uncommon equivocation.” Hooker thought that equivocation is a consequence of original sin. Hill believes in original sin, and his poetry is about its effects. This is the root of Hill’s “difficulty.” Yet “difficulty” is not just the opposite of ease; it is also hindrance to action. Hill’s best poems are often difficult in both senses.

Affiliations: 1: The University of Virginia; The Australian Catholic University

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