True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound
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True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound

by Christopher Ricks
     
 

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True Friendship looks closely at three outstanding poets of the past half-century—Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell—through the lens of their relation to their two predecessors in genius, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. The critical attention then finds itself reciprocated, with Eliot and Pound being in their turn contemplated anew

Overview

True Friendship looks closely at three outstanding poets of the past half-century—Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell—through the lens of their relation to their two predecessors in genius, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. The critical attention then finds itself reciprocated, with Eliot and Pound being in their turn contemplated anew through the lenses of their successors. Hill, Hecht, and Lowell are among the most generously alert and discriminating readers, as is borne out not only by their critical prose but (best of all) by their acts of new creation, those poems of theirs that are thanks to Eliot and Pound.

“Opposition is true Friendship.” So William Blake believed, or at any rate hoped. Hill, Hecht, and Lowell demonstrate many kinds of friendship with Eliot and Pound: adversarial, artistic, personal. In their creative assent and dissent, the imaginative literary allusions—like other, wider forms of influence—are shown to constitute the most magnanimous of welcomes and of tributes.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his latest, noted literary critic and Boston University professor Ricks (Dylan's Visions of Sin) makes a thorough, thoughtful examination of the web of influence connecting poets Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell with two of their most iconic predecessors, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Using as a jumping-off point William Blake's idea that "opposition is true friendship," Ricks's collection of critical essays investigates the notion that three of the postwar era's most significant poets were engaged in an ever-evolving creative conversation with Eliot and Pound. This "conversation" often manifested itself as influence and homage, but just as often emerged as a struggle by the next generation of poets to free themselves of artistic constraints while living and creating in the shadows of giants. Dissecting their creative relationships, Ricks analyzes each poet's work through the prism of those who came before and after, offering clear and insightful analyses of representative selections from the oeuvre of each. Though perceptive and scholarly, Ricks is also entertaining and personable, and never lets his obvious affection for his subjects cloud his judgment.
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The New York Review of Books

“Ricks is probably the greatest living scholar and editor of modern English-language poetry. . .a critic of unrivaled authority. His new book. . .consists of long essays on three late-twentieth-century poets. . .with particular attention to their literary debts to T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.” — Adam Kirsch, The New York Review of Books

— Adam Kirsch

The Hollins Critic

"This is the pleasure of reading Christopher Hicks''s True Friendship—the mysterious overlapping of influence—how a threesome of influence of Pound, Eliot and Danta becomes a foursome completed by Lowell who invokes Dante in Lowell''s sonnets as in much of Eliot and Pound."—Harriet Zinnes, The Hollins Critic

— Harriet Zinnes

The New Criterion

"[Christopher Ricks] is, in every sense, an annotator of genius."--Paul Dean, The New Criterion

— Paul Dean

Commonweal

"A masterpiece of criticism."—Lawrence Joseph, Commonweal

— Lawrence Joseph

Paul Mariani

“The work is not only original and the scholarship provocative and sound, but one feels in the company of the Circle of Philosophers, comforted by this Virgilian guide who is not only knowledgeable, but—even better—has such a refined sense of humor, wit, and—most rare of gifts—a humanistic pathos that rings down the ages.”—Paul Mariani, University Professor of English, Boston College

The New York Review of Books - Adam Kirsch

“Ricks is probably the greatest living scholar and editor of modern English-language poetry. . .a critic of unrivaled authority. His new book. . .consists of long essays on three late-twentieth-century poets. . .with particular attention to their literary debts to T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.” — Adam Kirsch, The New York Review of Books

The Hollins Critic - Harriet Zinnes

"This is the pleasure of reading Christopher Hicks's True Friendship—the mysterious overlapping of influence—how a threesome of influence of Pound, Eliot and Danta becomes a foursome completed by Lowell who invokes Dante in Lowell's sonnets as in much of Eliot and Pound."—Harriet Zinnes, The Hollins Critic

The New Criterion - Paul Dean

"[Christopher Ricks] is, in every sense, an annotator of genius."—Paul Dean, The New Criterion

Commonweal - Lawrence Joseph

"A masterpiece of criticism."—Lawrence Joseph, Commonweal

Library Journal
Individual accomplishments, regardless of the field of endeavor, are achieved in part by the contributions of others; of course, not all others but rather valued others whose contributions are worthy of contemplation and conclusion. These accomplishments are honored by offering recognition of these additions. If the field of endeavor is poetry—as is the case with this book—the honor of giving back is revealed in notable scholarship by author Ricks. The varied individual poets are Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell, foreshadowed by T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, all under the microscope of Ricks's calculating and discriminating eye. Collectively, these superlative poets have provided verse that is open to a vast array of interpretation and meaning. Poetry is like that. In some instances, poems written by any of these men are challenged, criticized with surgical precision. This is made apparent in Ricks's discussion of Hill, which has as its theme that opposition is necessary in true friendship; or, in the words of William Blake, "Without contraries (there) is no progression." According to Ricks, Hecht, while idolizing Eliot, realized that racism is evident in Eliot's writing. This criticism helped Hecht in his continued reading of Eliot "from falling into a settled and uncomplicated pleasure" and certainly in the conception of his own work. VERDICT This book is not for the faint of mind or heart; much is demanded of the reader's understanding. Readers should be well versed in poetry in general, specifically in the works of the five poets represented.—Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300134292
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
03/02/2010
Series:
The Anthony Hecht Lectures in the Humanities Series
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

TRUE FRIENDSHIP

Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound


By Christopher Ricks

Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2010 Christopher Ricks
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-13429-2


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

GEOFFREY HILL


"Opposition is true Friendship." So William Blake believed, or at any rate hoped. Not but what it would be stretching things to see Blake's opposition to Sir Joshua Reynolds as true friendship. Others of Blake's sayings might better fit the case. "Damn braces: Bless relaxes," perhaps, or "Without Contraries is no progression." Think of how Blake wrote of Reynolds: "This Man was Hired to Depress Art." Or wrote to him, angry urgings from the margin.

REYNOLDS: I found myself in the midst of works executed upon principles with which I was unacquainted: I felt my ignorance, and stood abashed.

BLAKE: A Liar[!] he never was Abashed in his Life & never felt his ignorance.

REYNOLDS: ... enthusiastick admiration seldom promotes knowledge

BLAKE: Enthusiastic Admiration is the first principle of Knowledge & its last.


No, Blake's proverb would have told more truth (but would not have been as telling) if it had reduced itself to the thought that opposition may on occasion be true friendship.

Then the matter is further complicated by there being no simple opposition to friendship. What would friendship's antonym be? An enemy is in opposition to a friend, true, but, despite Roget's Thesaurus, which heads its boldly confrontational columns "Friendship" and "Enmity," enmity declines to be simply the opposite of friendship, any more than would be animosity or hostility. Enmity is "the disposition or the feelings characteristic of an enemy; ill-will, hatred" (Oxford English Dictionary). Friendship is not limited to—though it is pleased to accommodate—"Friendly feeling or disposition felt or shown by one person for or towards another" (OED 2), for friendship is also OED 1: "The state or relation of being a friend." So an enmity will never be exactly the counterpart to a friendship. Friendship is mutual by definition; a mutual enmity has to say that it is such. The English language has done without—might even be thought to have wished to do without—an abstract noun from enemy that would be to it what friendship is to friend. Tom Paine had a go at this in 1776: "The nearest and only true way of proving enemyship, if I may so call it." No, you may not, for it is against common sense.

"Opposition is true Friendship." Note by an editor of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "This line is obliterated in some copies." Note by a later editor: "This sentence was written in white line ... but covered at least partly in all copies except B by washes or, as here [copy F], by thick opaque colours printed from the plate." Blake's illuminating thought seems always to have been challenged as well as challenging.

Of Geoffrey Hill's oppositions, that to Philip Larkin has nothing of friendship about it, though the case made here will be that it was easier for Hill the critic to repudiate Larkin and all his works than for Hill the poet. As to Hill and T. S. Eliot (Pound may wait, though not too long), the grudging respect that Hill has for Eliot remains respect, even on the occasions when it is palpably outnumbered by the grudgings or even the grudges.

Gratitude is a nub. The English language recognizes that there are such people as ingrates. We are to face the fact that there is not a corresponding noun for someone who is duly grateful. "What I dislike about you is that you are an ingrate." But not "What I like about you is that you are a grate, a great grate."

Going after Eliot has become the sport of bloods no longer young. William Wootten recently reviewed Frank Kuppner: "There's nothing like kicking a great writer when he's down. T. S. Eliot, villain of stage, screen and literary criticism, is now a popular football for his fellow poets. Tom Paulin let his prose attacks spill into The Invasion Handbook, and even Geoffrey Hill, the most Eliotic of contemporary poets, has been using verse and prose to badmouth Four Quartets." (Wootten went on, with Old Possum in play: "However, when it comes to Eliot-bashing, Frank Kuppner makes the competition look like pussycats.")

Eliot-bashing? Bad-mouth? Hill's mouth has seldom spoken with more dignity than on those occasions within his poems when Eliot is a presence, elusive perhaps but a presence not to be put by. Hear the voice of the bard (or rather of the bards) in the closing poem of "The Argument of the Masque," the first section of Scenes from Comus (2005). The poem's presentation has been of propositions or postulates: That such-and-such is the case (and the world is everything that is the case).

    That weight of the world, weight of the word, is.
    Not wholly irreconcilable. Almost.
    Almost we cannot pull free; almost we escape

    the leadenness of things. Almost I have walked
    the first step upon water. Nothing beyond.
    The inconceivable is a basic service.

    Hyphens are not-necessary for things I say.
    Nor do I put to strain their erudition—
    I mean, the learned readers of J. Milton.

    But weight of the world, weight of the word, is.


The beauty of this poem, most manifest in the sonorous exactitude of its weighting, owes something to the closing words of Little Gidding (which were thereby the closing words of Eliot's closing poem, Four Quartets): "The fire and the rose are one." For Eliot, the sequence that moves from the plural "The fire and the rose are" to "one" (the most singular word imaginable) manifests the metaphysical union of the one and the many, reconciled at the very last. For Hill, the verb to be is likewise to be the mystery and the reconciliation. "Is" simply is. The proposition, "That ...," modulates into the turn which is "But."

But weight of the world, weight of the word, is. The line, although it comes to open differently, both opens and closes this poem, this sequence of 20 poems, this pause within a longer sequence of 120 poems. Weight of the world and weight of the word are distinguished without being posited as altogether distinct. Had the apothegm ended with are, they would have been more differentiated. Are they one and the same, as is might insist? Yes and no. Or might it be that they are two and the same? Apposition is true friendship. Feel how immensely different the poem's line is from the prose title of one of the essays collected in Style and Faith (2003), an essay which had in 1991 been called "Style and Faith" and which became "The Weight of the Word."

There is in Hill's poem a further and larger debt to Eliot than this, but first there needs to be acknowledged here a smaller debt (like all good debts, going both ways, albeit not equally), an amiable friction that has its connections to opposition and to friendship. Given that I once wrote elaborately on Hill's ways with hyphens, I can be expected to wink or to wince at this poem's asseveration, "Hyphens are not-necessary for things I say." Hill's comedy is often that of a bear; this particular rounding is that of a bull, an Irish Bull, since the very announcement finds it necessary to have recourse to a hyphen, an odd one too, there in "not-necessary." But upon reflection, and upon acknowledgment that Hill is not only precise but a precisian, not-necessary is understood as not exactly the same as not necessary. (Even as unnecessary differs from them both.) To which is added a further glint ("not-necessary for things I say"): can one unmistakably say a hyphen? Hugh Kenner pointed out that "the footnote's relation to the passage from which it depends is established wholly by visual and typographic means, and will typically defeat all efforts of the speaking voice to clarify it without visual aid." I am still set to praise Hill's imaginative hyphenation.

    Can't you read English? What
    do I meán by praise-songs? I could weep.
    This is a praise-song. These are songs of praise.
    Shall I hyphenate-fór-you?

    (Speech! Speech!, 2000, poem 99)


Well, not for me alone. But I do believe that the criticism that I have devoted to Geoffrey Hill (over the course of forty years) may play a small part within the complexity that is Hill's relations to T. S. Eliot. Looking at clippings, I see that I made mention of Eliot when extolling Hill in 1964, 1968, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1988, and 2001; this might well have preyed on his nerves, and the present book may not help. Long ago, I was the recipient of a prize for an essay that I had written about Hill's poems, an essay that often invoked Eliot. A friend of mine inquired of Geoffrey Hill how he felt about this. And he: "Ask the horse how he feels when the jockey wins the race." As with all the best ruefulnesses, the joke was on both of us.

But the adducing to be italicized is Hill's Eliot. "That weight of the world, weight of the word, is." This particular exactitude would not have come to be, were it not for Eliot.

    If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
    If the unheard, unspoken
    Word is unspoken, unheard;
    Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
    The Word without a word, the Word within
    The world and for the world;
    And the light shone in darkness and
    Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
    About the centre of the silent Word.

    O my people, what have I done unto thee.
    Where shall the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
    Not on the sea or on the islands, not
    On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
    For those who walk in darkness

    (Ash-Wednesday V)


There are other coincidings.

ELIOT: Not on the sea ... those who walk

HILL: I have walked/the first step upon water

Or the transmutation of Eliot's "those who wait"—which comes a few lines later in Eliot—into the word that is pressed (peine forte et dure) by Hill four times: "weight."

Assuredly, Hill's intersection of "world" and "word" would not in itself have needed to resound from or with Eliot's lines. But the syntax that uses the word is (in order to hold together two similar but crucially unidentical things) is a corroborative convergence. "That weight of the world, weight of the word, is." "Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard": the unspoken word is not to be identified with the Word unheard but is not to be distinct from it either, thanks to "is" (not are).

In a lecture in 2005 (the year in which he published Scenes from Comus), Hill with cogent brilliance chose this line of Eliot's to be a key instance of what was owed to F. H. Bradley. Hill quotes Bradley's Ethical Studies (1876), on which Eliot wrote in the Times Literary Supplement (29 December 1927), and then most beautifully elicits the interlacing with Eliot's art:

So far religion and morality are the same; though, as we have seen, they are also different. The main difference is that what in morality only is to be, in religion somehow and somewhere really is, and what we are to do is done.

Such passages strain almost hopelessly beyond bearing the conventional understanding of what can be accomplished with verb-tenses within the patterns of ordinary grammar ("somehow and somewhere really is, and what we are to do is done"). It is in this way, in the strangeness of the tense-collocations, that Bradley's prose half-invents the tense-music of Ash-Wednesday ("Because I know I shall not know"; "For what is done, not to be done again"; "Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard").


Furthermore, then, it is in this way, for his part, that Eliot half-invents the tense-music of Scenes from Comus: "But weight of the world, weight of the word, is."

Hill writes of Bradley in relation to Eliot: "strain almost hopelessly beyond ..." And Hill had written in Scenes from Comus:

        Almost.
    Almost we cannot pull free; almost we escape
    the leadenness of things. Almost I have walked
    the first step upon water. Nothing beyond.

But beyond this parallel with Eliot, there is the accrual by which Hill's "half-invents" is itself half-invented. It may issue from the weight of Wordsworth's world:

        of all the mighty world
    Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
    And what perceive;

("Tintern Abbey")


William Empson, sensitive to these mysteries of half-creation, had found it difficult in a way (difficult in a way markedly different from Hill's) to celebrate Eliot. Empson entered his tribute to Eliot's sixtieth birthday in 1948: "I do not propose here to try to judge or define the achievement of Eliot; indeed I feel, like most other verse writers of my generation, that I do not know for certain how much of my own mind he invented, let alone how much of it is a reaction against him or indeed a consequence of misreading him. He has a very penetrating influence, perhaps not unlike an east wind."

Empson's delectable word "invented" ("how much of my own mind he invented") banters the self-importance that would suppose that what great writers do for us is a matter of their helping us discover ourselves. Empson's unrepining warmth can be felt; it is alive, for instance, in the lightness of punctuation that moves on from the word "invented," with the merest of commas, into "let alone ..." In Hill's prose dealings with Eliot, the prevailing wind is an east wind. Yet in Hill's poems, it is something more—more of a western wind. As in a meeting such as rejoices in this:

    The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
    Unbroken wings

    And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
    In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices

    (Ash-Wednesday VI)

    like a fresh sea-wind
    like the lilac
    at your petrified heart
    as something anciently known ...

    ("Scenes with Harlequins I")


Eliot's art, refreshed, has itself become "something anciently known ..." and something blessedly not "lost." "Someone said: 'The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.' Precisely, and they are that which we know."

"The lost sea voices" within Ash-Wednesday may summon the many voices that are always being conducted within an art as sounding and resounding as that of Eliot and of Hill. In Tennyson, "The deep/Moans round with many voices" ("Ulysses"). Within Eliot, in due course, we hear that "The sea has many voices,/Many gods and many voices" (The Dry Salvages). For more many-voices, we might move to Hill, the second poem of The Orchards of Syon (2002):

    Something escapes committal; in my name
    recalls itself to being. Mystic
    durables are not the prime good, nor
    lust the sole licenser. Shakespeare
    clearly heard many voices. No secret:
    voicing means hearing, at a price a gift,
    affliction chiefly, whereas despair
    clamps and is speechless. Donne in his time
    also heard voices he preserved on wax
    cylinders. Some of these I possess
    and am possessed by. Persistence tells,
    even when you are past speech, gurneyed
    from Death's Duel. As for posterity,
    whose lips are sealed, I do prefer
    Polish to Czech | though, not speaking
    either language, I am unable to say
    why. Starting with these,
    I wish I understood myself
    more clearly or less well.
    Go back to cast off several lives. Find
    all have godlike elements
    divided among them: such suffering,
    you can imagine, driven, murderous,
    albeit under notice of grace.


The incremental confluence in Eliot ("The sea has many voices,/Many gods and many voices") divides its streams here in Hill, flowing via "many voices" into "godlike elements"—elements of which water is one. Much is shared: "such suffering,/you can imagine"—as against "you can't imagine such suffering." For Eliot had imagined such suffering. "Mystic/durables are not the prime good": true, perhaps, but voices can be heard as durables, mysterious even when not mystic, and nowhere more durable than where one poet possesses another.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from TRUE FRIENDSHIP by Christopher Ricks. Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Ricks. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Christopher Ricks is Warren Professor of the Humanities and Co-Director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University. Formerly professor of poetry at Oxford, he was President of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers from 2007 to 2008. He lives in Boston.

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