Saturday, August 27, 2016

`I Have Not Finished'

Since his death on June 30 I have been sequentially rereading Geoffrey Hill’s work, beginning with the poetry. I’ve done this slowly and casually, when the sight of Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 on my desk moves me to pick it up. Reading the dominant poet of the age, one I’ve been reading for more than forty years, I’m not expecting to make a significant reevaluation. It’s an act of gratitude. The only way to honor a writer, living or dead, is to read him. The rest is marketing or self-aggrandizement. I’ve read “Funeral Music” again, a sequence of eight sonnets nominally devoted to the War of the Roses, published in King Log (1968). The concluding lines in the final sonnet and much of the rest of the poem stir echoes of the Henry VI plays:

“If it is without
Consequence when we vaunt and suffer, or
If it is not, all echoes are the same
In such eternity. Then tell me, love,
How that should comfort us—or anyone
Dragged half-unnerved out of this worldly place,
Crying to the end ‘I have not finished’.”

It’s the final line that holds me and recalls a similar declaration. Isaac Babel was arrested by Stalin’s goons on March 15, 1939, and taken to Lubyanka Prison. He was accused of working for Trotsky and spying for France and Austria. His twenty-minute trial took place on Jan. 26, 1940, he was executed by firing squad the following day and buried in a communal grave. None of this was known until 1990. The transcript of his trial includes Babel’s final words: 

“I am innocent. I have never been a spy. I never allowed any action against the Soviet Union. I accused myself falsely. I was forced to make false accusations against myself and others . . . I am asking for only one thing -- let me finish my work.”

1 comment:

zmkc said...

I read Geoffrey Hill's "Requiem for Plantagenet Kings@ the other day and was fairly comprehensively baffled by it -

"For whom the possessed sea littered, on both shores/Ruinous arms; being fired and for good"

"Relieved of soul, the dropping-back of dust"

Umm, what?

I'd be interested to read your thoughts on the poem (especially the baffling "dropping-back of dust"; plus, which "possessed sea" - and is that "littered" as in carried on a litter or scattered about, and how the hell did the sea do either of those things - or could it be I'm being stupidly literal [who me?])

Anyway grateful if you feel like it, to read your thoughts, as I said.