Poem: Luxe, Calme et Volupté
Poet: Geoffrey Hill
Link: Google Books
The poem’s title traces back to a line from Baudelaire’s “L’invitation au voyage.” That poem and many English translations thereof can be found here. Henri Matisse also used that line for the title of one of his paintings.
There all is order and beauty,
Luxury, peace, and pleasure.
These lines of Baudelaire present an ideal placidness that Hill will inevitably disrupt. He does so from the very first word of his poem: “Lost.” If Baudelaire’s ideal is going to enter this poem, it is only as something lost. Hill’s interest is to clarify the metaphysics of loss:
Lost is not vanished; nor is it finished;
more like a haunting from the ghost future
that was not ours and cannot now be called
through into being by too late consent.
The loss is not something possessed once but no longer, nor something begun but now finished (a cessation of activity). Rather, the loss is of an unattainable future, one we disdained to own until too late. Whether this is a general statement of a fact of life, how the materiality of the world always disrupts the perfect realization of ideas, or whether it is something more private, known only to Hill and to “PMH” (to whom the poem is dedicated), I cannot say.
The poem ends with “both of us here” (I presume Hill and PMH) “conjoined in epitaph / awaiting stone.” In the context of this poem alone, these lines do not take on their full resonance. But read in the light of “On the Sophoclean Moment in English Poetry” (see my discussion here), the likening of the words of the poem to stone takes on extra meaning. Hill in the earlier poem claimed that “words are never stone / except in their appearance.” Here, the shorter line “awaiting stone” gives this poem something of the appearance of an inverted tombstone. This suggests a send-up of the fixation implied in these lines: we are “awaiting stone,” perhaps, but not quite stone yet. Words, after all, are never stone…