Poet: Geoffrey Hill
Poem: Wild Clematis in Winter
This poem presents an image, and through it, a mood. The starkest details in this image come in the center of the poem:
the earth lying shotten, the sun shrouded off-white,
wet ferns ripped bare, flat as fishes’ backbones
The earth is ‘shotten’, a term normally used to describe herring that have ejected their spawn (which, it seems, decreases their value as food). It is a powerful choice of word, suggesting both the vigor of life (through the suggestion of spawning) and the disconnect of the speaker from this vigor: the speaker can see only the diminished value. This hint comes to full fruition in the next line, when the wet ferns lie on the ground looking like fishes’ backbones. Here the vigor of life has transmuted into death, more befitting the mood.
The poem does, in my view, contain a misstep. The first two lines establish that the scene is a roadside scene, a view from a speeding car leaving the country for the city. To capture this, Hill describes the view as “blurry detail.” This misses the mark. That the view is blurry I could surmise from the fact that the car is speeding, and ‘detail’ is a vague term (suggestive of the viewers’ inability to make out the details themselves), a third hammering home of the point. It is tiresome, and weakens the poem.