Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Robert Baker

Commitee Members

Ashby Kinch, Paul Dietrich


elegy, ethics, Geoffrey Hill, influence, mimetic criticism, Robert Pogue Harrison, tradition


University of Montana


This paper considers the embodied ethics of Geoffrey Hill’s poetic practice. Hill stages his engagement with poetry through the idioms, images, tropes, and diction of the literary tradition. Through this pragmatic rehearsal of the language of the dead, Hill’s poetry projects the tradition into the present. Hill resists the ethical entrapments of appropriative poetry through his insistence upon the brute physicality of atrocity and through a rigorous (for both poet and reader) formal difficulty. Hill’s practice refuses to console after the models of Peter Sacks, Jahan Ramazani, or John Vickery. Instead, concerned with modernity’s disconnectedness, Hill’s poetry returns us to the presence of the dead, to their ritual and language. Alternatively, because Hill’s subjects are historical atrocities, rather than natural occurrences, the sort of communal consolation that the elegy traditionally offered would be inappropriate to Hill’s concerns. These atrocities are, most frequently, instances of human violence (the Holocaust, the Battle of Towton, the Wars of the Roses, etc.) and, for this reason, they do not lend themselves to the consolations of natural cycles of death and rebirth. Since they were often committed in the name of religion, Christian transcendence is similarly questionable, as are other consolatory transcendences. These conventional modes of consolation being denied, Hill’s poetry reconnects us with the dead through the formal devices and techniques of the historical institution of poetry. Through the rigorous engagement with and sacrificial making of poetry, Hill attempts to redeem tradition and history for the present.



© Copyright 2009 Michael Christopher Bartch