Poetry as oath-bound utterance

Poetry as oath-bound utterance

Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012

by Geoffrey Hill

Oxford University Press, $71.95 hb, 987 pp, 9780199605897

In his November 2010 lecture delivered as Oxford Professor of Poetry, Geoffrey Hill tested the idea that poetry might constitute a form of perjury. He acknowledged that ‘this is a deeply pessimistic view: many would say anachronistic’. Showing that language is an imperfect and even fallen medium which presents moral hazards to its users was not, however, the session’s most challenging proposition. More confronting was the suggestion that poetic language belongs to the category of perjury in particular, rather than to a more general category of ‘the lie’ or ‘the misleading remark’. Perjury is not simply lying but lyingunder oath: in Hill’s equation, poetry becomes oath-bound utterance. If, as he puts it later in the lecture, his ‘opinions on the matter of poetry … are decidedly peculiar’, it is because of this suggestion that poetic language bears such juridical weight. Whether poets might assume unspoken oaths; whether, more broadly, poetic speech necessarily holds civic consequences, is an urgently explicit question in his current work and one of the tensions animating both the context and the content of Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952–2012.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Bridget Vincent

Bridget Vincent

Bridget Vincent recently completed a PhD in English Literature at Cambridge University as a General Sir John Monash Scholar and is currently a McKenzie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Her postdoctoral project is titled ‘Poetry and Public Apology in the Late Twentieth Century: Adrienne Rich and Geoffrey Hill’

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.