Geoffrey Hill, The Triumph of Love. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998
Entertainment overkill: that amplifier
acts as the brain of the putsch. The old
elixir-salesmen had no such entourage
though their product was superior; as was
their cunning oratory.
For the essentials of the cadre, Wordsworth’s
‘savage torpor’ can hardly be bettered
or his prescience refuted.
What it is they possess — and, at some mean
level, Europe lies naked to their abuse —
is not immediately
in the grasp of their hand. They are as vassal-
lord-puppet-strutters, not great scourges of God.
A simple text would strike them
dumb, and is awaited. Meanwhile
they are undeniable powers of this world,
closely attended in their performance
of sacral baseness, like kings at stool.
Vergine bella — it is here that I enquire
a canzone of some substance. There are sound
precedents for this, of a plain eloquence
which would be perfect. But —
ought one to say, I am required; or, it is
required of me; or, it is requisite that I should
make such an offering, bring in such a tribute?
And is this real obleigation or actual
pressure of expectancy? One cannot purchase
the goodwill of your arduously simple faith
as one would acquire a tobacconist’s cum paper shop
or a small convenience store
established by aloof, hardworking Muslims.
Nor is language, now, what it once was
even in — wait a tick — nineteen hundred and forty-
five of the common era, when your blast-scarred face
appeared staring, seemingly in disbelief,
shocked beyond recollection, unable to recognize
the mighty and the tender salutations
that slowly, with innumerable false starts, the ages
had put together for your glory
in words and in the harmonies of stone.
But you have long known and endured all things
since you first suffered the Incarnation:
endless the extortions, endless the dragging
in of your name. Vergine bella, as you
are well aware, I here follow
Petrarch, who was your follower,
a sinner devoted to your service.
I ask that you acknowledge the work
as being contributive to your high praise,
even if no-one else shall be reconciled
to a final understanding of it in that light.