Monday, November 30, 2009

`Traceable Across the Faults'

“Whatever may be meant by moral landscape
it is for me increasingly a terrain
seen in cross-section: igneous, sedimentary,
conglomerate, metamorphic rock-
strata, in which particular grace,
individual love, decency, endurance,
are traceable across the faults.”

The hopefully operative word is “traceable.” The preceding virtues do not loom like mountains or erode across eons like canyons. They are traceable, like carbon-14 – diminutive and dependable. With their aid, we can organize human history, like the epochs of geology. “Faults” is a delicious pun. The seven lines above are Section LI of The Triumph of Love (1998), Geoffrey Hill’s poem in 150 sections. Bryan Appleyard has been reading it:

“Then I made the further mistake of reading Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love. This is England now. Not much more needs to be said.”

I can’t speak to the moral landscape of England but Hill’s diagnosis is not happy and transcends political and geological boundaries. In Auden and Christianity, Arthur Kirsch, writing of “In Praise of Limestone,” quotes a letter the poet wrote his friend Elizabeth Mayer. The poem’s theme, Auden writes, is “that rock creates the only truly human landscape, i.e. when politics, art, etc. remain on a modest ungrandiose scale. What awful ideas have been suggested to the human mind by huge plains and gigantic mountains.”

I rather like plains but isn’t there something a bit vulgar, even Wagnerian, about mountains? Rolling, grass-covered hills, punctuated with woodlands, seem the friendliest of landscapes. We note the geology of Bromsgrove, Hill’s birthplace, consists of Bromsgrove sandstone, dating from the Triassic period, some 251 to 199 million years ago. Notice, too, the Mercian mudstone. Hill is a feature of landscape, geological, moral and otherwise.

No comments: