Poem: In Ipsley Church Lane 2
Poet: Geoffrey Hill
Outside a ferocious rain is winding down, the sort that has hardly begun to rain before it vanishes. Such a rain is refreshing, bespeaking as it does a nature that is self-assertive, that knows what it wants and takes it. How much preferable are vigorous rains such as this to the gloomy, ineradicable drizzle that greys the sky for an entire day, an entire season, that stays long past its welcome, that, infusing everything, does not know its bounds.
But in such tastes I am less of a poet than the late Geoffrey Hill, who can ferret the poetry even out of smur. It is such weather that Hill captures in his poem, “In Ipsley Church Lane 2” (my thoughts on “In Ipsley Church Lane 1” here). “Every few minutes the drizzle shakes / itself like a dog.” The rain may be miserable, but beneath it objects take on new forms, “its heavy body and its lightnesses emblems” and “varieties of sameness.” This mutability raises a question:
my question, since I am paid a retainer,
is whether the appearances, the astonishments,
stand in their own keepings finally,
or are annulled through the changed measures of light.
As I read it, the question is whether or not the changeable surfaces of things ultimately rest in some deep, invariable reality, or whether they become nothing through their ceaseless mutations. His answer is the poet’s answer:
Imagination, freakish, dashing every way,
The crucial word is ‘defers.’ (Here, a caveat: I am a nihilist whereas Hill is a Christian, and this shapes my reading on this point.) In the end, there is annulment, nothingness. Everything is cancelled out to zero. But so long as there is imagination, there is achieved a perpetual deferring of this cancellation. Why is this the poet’s answer? Because such deferral is the poet’s task. With this poem, Hill has accomplished it.