Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Geoffrey Hill

"Canaan" is the poem that switched Geoffrey Hill, for me, from impenetrable to powerful. Below is only the first of three short parts to the poem, but it is the most brutal. When I read it for the first time, it brought to mind the awful scenes of carnage in Mel Gibson's Apocalypto when the village is raided and its inhabitants violated. Similarly, having today just finished Ridley Scott's director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven, the interminable violence of that land is immediately present in mind. Hill's words are no less a force to thwart our easy dodges and spiritualizations of Scripture's and history's unendurable reports of divinely sanctioned killing.

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By Geoffrey Hill


They march at God's
pleasure through Flanders
with machine-pistols,
chorales, cannon
of obese bronze,
with groaning pushcarts,
to topple Baal. At
crossroads they hoist
corpses and soiled
banners of the Lamb.
The sun takes assize.
Aloof the blades
of oblation
rise, fall, as though they
were not obstructed
by blades of bone.

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