1 I have a question to ask for the form's sake: how that small happy boy in the seaside photographs became the unstable man, hobbyist of his own rage, engrafting it on a stock of compliance, of hurt women. You do not need to answer the question or challenge imposture. Whatever the protocol I should still construe. 2 There is a kind of sanity that hates weddings but bears an intelligence of grief in its own kind. There are achievements that carry failure on their back, blindness not as in Brueghel, but unfathomably far-seeing. 3 Recap on words like compassion that I never chanced in your living presence; as empathy and empowerment. I did not blunder into your room with flowers. Despite the correct moves, you would have wiped me in the championship finals of dislike. 4 You might have responded to my question, one will never know. You asked not to be cheated of old age. No kidding, it is an unlovely parley, although you could have subdued it and set it to work, met it without embracing. Edna with her prosthetic jaw and nose prevails over these exchanges. 5 Your anger against me might have been wrath concerning the just city. Or poetry's assumption of rule. Or its rôle as wicked governor. This abdication of self-censure indeed hauls it within your long range of contempt, 6 unlike metaphysics which you had time for, re-wedded to the city, a salutation to Pallas, goddess of all polemics, to Phocion's wife — who shall be nameless — in Poussin's painting, gathering the disgraced ashes of her husband. As you rightly said, not some mere infinite love, a finite act of political justice. Not many would see that. 7 If there is a healing of broken love it is not as dyslexia's broken, learning to read signs. In broken love you read the signs too late although they are met with everywhere like postcards of Manet and Monet, Van Gogh's shoes. There are many rites exordinate to the occasion 8 though you have to choose one and get down to it — it may involve grovelling or tearing of garments. The just city is finally of some interest, chiefly in the base senses of curiosity and self-serving, if you understand me. You do, of course, since I am using your three primers, 9 Mourning Becomes the Law, Love's Work, Paradiso: a good legacy, you should be proud of it except that pride is forever irrelevant where you are now. So it continues, the work, lurching on broken springs or having to be dug out or jump-started or welded together out of two wrecks or donated to a good cause, like to the homeless 10 in the city that is not just, has never known justice, except sporadically: Solon, Phocion — and they gave him hemlock and burned his body in an unhallowed place. And his ashes were taken up and smuggled into his own home, and buried beneath the hearth. 11 A familiar rare type of resistance heroine, like that woman, is required by justice. Whether the omens are propitious or unpropitious the Lysander takes off, heads south, the Maquis line out the chosen ground, the landing strip, with their brave vulnerable fires. 12 Sometimes the Gestapo are waiting, sometimes not, and she gets clear. But the odds are heavy. The odds are heavy-set against us all though medics call the chances symbiosis in their brusque insolent manner that denies self-knowledge as the sufferer, her formal agon: that word you chose to use, a standard term but not despicable in context of Love's Work. 13 Poetry's its own agon that allows us to recognize devastation as the rift between power and powerlessness. But when I say poetry I mean something impossible to be described, except by adding lines to lines that are sufficient as themselves. 14 Di-dum endures formally; and the pre-Socratics. Phocion rests in his lost burial place. Devastated is Estuary; devastation remains waste and shock. This ending is not the end, more like the cleared spaces around St. Paul's and the gutted City after the fire-raid. I find love's work a bleak ontology to have to contemplate; it may be all we have.
By Geoffrey Hill