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date: 25 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This essay begins by questioning a limiting judgement by Geoffrey Hill on poetry in English and any language, and on the British poetry of the last fifty years. It traces this view to Hill’s long intellectual struggle with intrinsic value, which includes his need to recognize it in his justification for poetic achievement, and difficulties in isolating and demonstrating its existence in poems. Following his struggles through his views on the English language, the British state, John Ruskin’s cultural criticism, David Hume on taste, on theology, ethics, and aesthetics, it argues that no value is intrinsic, and, as a result, neither is there any extrinsic value. Value, within this field, exists in informed relationships between poems and readers, relationships which require the discernible characteristics of the works and the active participation of readers, and which has no existence without the presence of both. The word ‘informed’ here is recognized to include awareness of the history of such recorded evaluations—the poem’s critical heritage. The essay explores why Hill is reluctant to abandon intrinsic value, traced to his disappointment with the ability of readers to come to what he would regard as appropriate evaluations of qualities supposed intrinsic. These insights, derived from Hill’s critical writings on value, are then extended to his later poetry, its passing observations on the struggle with value, and to an instance of its suspicion of readers. The essay then returns the assertion about poetry with which it began to underline how Hill’s sense of the case cannot be true because the grounds do not exist for him, or anyone else, to know it.

Keywords: Geoffrey Hill, judgement, theology, intrinsic value, extrinsic value, John Ruskin, David Hume, ethics, technique, readers, isolation, nostalgia

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