Epiphany at Saint Mary and All Saints

Poem: Epiphany at Saint Mary and All Saints
Poet: Geoffrey Hill
Link: Complete text of the poem can be found in this review


In researching this poem I discovered that the ‘epiphany’ in the title of this poem and the last is not the vernacular sense of “any sudden and important manifestation or realization,” not even the somewhat more religious sense of a specifically divine manifestation, but a particular Christian service, celebrated on January 6, that in the west represents the manifestation of Jesus to the gentiles (in the form of the three wise men). This renders the question I asked of the previous poem (what was the content of the epiphany) somewhat impertinent—though not entirely. After all, if Hill’s is a living faith, the prospect of new epiphanies must remain open…

In any event, with this new understanding the two poems form a powerful contrast. The one locates epiphany in nature, with light from the sun. The other finds it in the city, not in the church just outside it, below, where “the Stour slovens / through its narrow cut,” beneath the “amber salt” of streetlamps. I confess I find more in the former, but perhaps only because the latter is a bit knottier, and I have not yet untied it.

I recommend, by the by, the review above (linked for the full text), which has helpful comments on both poems (though the author seems not to realize that the Epiphany is a particular holiday). I find in this sentence something like my interpretation of the epiphany of the prior poem: “this is an epiphany in which God communicates not through but simply as the scene, and so the mimetic recreation of the scene is also the nearest thing to a recreation of the epiphany.”

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