Poem: Ars
Poet: Geoffrey Hill
Link: Google books

The final lines of Geoffrey Hill’s “Ars” could stand as a general apology for his poetic method:

………………………………I grasp the possible

rightness of certain things
that possess the imagination, however briefly;

the verdict of their patterned randomness.

“Patterned randomness” is how his poems often feel, with images and thoughts occurring in a succession whose underlying logic I can vaguely sense (“patterned”) but cannot quite articulate (“randomness”). “Ars” is no exception. The first part of the poem reads like a sequence of private jokes, some of which are funny even if I don’t quite get them—

What is incomparable and are we
making a list?

—and others of which are mostly just puzzling:

Don’t lay destructive charge if you were booked
for exhibition.

This is only somewhat mitigated by the section’s final line:

Not everything’s a joke but we’ve been had.

With the second part I gain a little clarity. The jokes are contextualized: vision cannot deny them. How could vision, which is “the province / of human discourse, error, self-delusion”—this is the old Platonic mockery—come to any other conclusion?

How risible the solemnized
intentions towards joy.

So there are jokes. Something of our entire condition is a joke. But I can’t go much further, because I’m not in on it. I mean, I am in on the joke of life, broadly speaking, but Hill is telling it in a way that is still obscure to me. I might as well end, then. Since I began at the end, it is only right that I end at the beginning. Just as the final lines present Hill’s method as a poet, so does the first line provide words of encouragement to the reader:

Hazardous but press on.

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