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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.

1. Allott Kenneth The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse 1918–60 1962 Rev. ed Harmondsworth, England Penguin
2. Barth Karl Die christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf 1982 Zürich Theologischer Verlag
3. Bloom Harold Geoffrey Hill 1986 New York Chelsea House Modern Critical View Series
4. Derrida Jacques McDonald Christie V. Kamuf Peggy The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. 1985 New York Schocken Books
5. Eliot T. S. Four Quartets 1943 New York Harcourt
6. Hegel G. W. F. Baillie J. B. The Phenomenology of Mind 1967 New York Harper and Row
7. Hill Geoffrey Collected Poems 1985 Harmondsworth, England Penguin
8. Hill Geoffrey Haynes Kenneth "“Dividing Legacies.”" Collected Critical Writings of Geoffery Hill 2008 Oxford Oxford University Press
9. Hooker Richard Edelen George Of the Laws of Ecclesiastial Polity 1977 Cambridge MA Harvard University Press
10. Hopkins Gerard Manley Devlin Christopher The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins 1959 London Oxford University Press
11. Husserl Edmund Steinbock Anthony J. Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic 2001 Dordrecht, The Netherlands Kluwer Academic Publishers http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-010-0846-4
12. Levinas Emmanuel Lingis Alphonso Collected Philosophical Papers 1987 The Hague Martinus Nijhoff http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-009-4364-3
13. Mallarmé Stéphane Bosley Keith "“Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.”" The Poems 1977 Harmondsworth, England Penguin
14. Ricks Christopher True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound 2010 New Haven CT Yale University Press
15. Ricks Christopher T. S. Eliot and Prejudice 1988 London Faber and Faber
16. FN0 * )The essays collected in this discussion derive from presentations given at the 2011 Modern Language Association convention, in a panel sponsored by the Division on Literature and Religion.
17. FN1 1)See The Ear of the Other106–8.
18. FN2 2)See Hill, Collected Critical Writings479.
19. FN3 3)For the reference to Freud, see Harold Bloom’s “Introduction,” Geoffrey Hill, 5.
20. FN4 4)See Bloom, “Introduction,” 3.
21. FN5 5)See Allott 391–93.
22. FN6 6)See Stéphane Mallarmé, “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe” 174, and T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets54.
23. FN7 7) See Barth 149ff.
24. FN8 8)See Levinas, “Reality and its Shadow” in Collected Philosophical Papers1–13.
25. FN9 9)See Hegel 667.
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/content/journals/10.1163/15685292-12341239
2012-01-01
2016-02-10

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

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