Publication of the week: Professor Stefan Hawlin

8 September 2014

Hawlin, S., ‘ “Grinding the Textures of Harmony” : Heroic Difficulty in Geoffrey Hill’s Clavics’, English (2014); doi: 10.1093/english/efu017

Geoffrey Hill

Geoffrey Hill receives Honorary Doctorate at Oxford University, photo courtesy of Darrell Godliman

Critical appreciation of Geoffrey Hill’s The Daybooks has been slow to take off. In relation to Clavics (2011), the fourth ‘Daybook’, the issue of Hill’s ‘difficulty’ has again loomed unreasonably large in early critical responses. This paper argues that the so-called difficulty may have less to do with stylistic features and complexity of allusion than with questions concerning argument and Hill’s Christian humanism. The paper sets up a Gradus ad Parnassum of difficulty, moving from a relatively easy poem to one at the highest level of challenge. It looks at Hill’s engagement with 17th-century music, culture, and religious faith, which he focuses on his view of the royal composer William Lawes (1602-45). Here is an aspect of the volume that anyone can appreciate. It is a shock to those who have heard Lawes’ beautiful music (available on YouTube) to think (as Hill does here) about the composer’s brutal death on a Civil War battlefield (1645), killed by a ‘fatal bullet through the fine slashed coat’ – to think, in other words, of how civility and its enlightenments are a struggle with our darkest proclivities. Hill sees Lawes as a heroic figure struggling to fulfil the mission of the artist amid the ill-temper of his times: the ‘world in its rot’. The paper concludes that Clavics is not some ne plus ultra of difficulty, but a boldly original lyric sequence, interrogating the true role of the artist, and other figures, in relation to the discords of national history.

English-coverEnglish is an internationally known journal of literary criticism, published on behalf of The English Association. Each issue contains essays on a wide range of authors and literary texts in English, aimed at readers within universities and colleges and presented in a lively and engaging style.

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Stefan Hawlin is Professor of English at Buckingham.