Title: Without Title
Poet: Geoffrey Hill
This is an essay in the truest sense, an attempt, an endeavor at interpretation, but certainly nothing final. It takes, in my experience (n=2) an hour to read a poem by Geoffrey Hill, an hour before the words begin to, if not quite speak, at least suggest in unison. On a first and even a tenth pass, suggestions abound, but in clamorous, quarrelsome voices. But on the eleventh…
‘Pheromones’, the first word of “Without Title,” is a misdirection, and not for the reason explicitly given: “something other / bemuses mourning.” It suggests a sexual attraction, and thus we expect the poem to have a woman as its subject. The later mention to “vows unmade / shared life aborted” only furthers this sense. Yet it later it is “my fellow townsman” who appears to be gone, as we watch the poetic voice “culling the bay bowers to which he [the townsman] / cannot return.” And it is “his” sign (“a bloom-struck cherry bough”) that is contrasted with “ours.”
The death in question, then, is of the townsman. The poem queries the possibility of a “restitution” of the relationship, concluding, “no restitution but with wired laurels.” These laurels are the key: the plant is symbolic of poetry, and forces on me the conclusion that the relationship between the poetic voice and the dead man was a poetic one, perhaps akin to that between the voice of Shakespeare’s sonnets and the beautiful youth. Of course this need not mean it is not sexual, in one form or another.
Even if this should be entirely wrong, I may still appreciate the recollection of this relationship as resting on “a genius / for misconception” – indeed I may hope that such genius may characterize my own reading.
Thus far, and no further, have I made it through this thicket.