Geoffrey Hill is University Professor at Boston University. He holds an honorary D. Litt. from the University of Leeds and is an Honorary Fellow of both Keble College, Oxford and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Amongst many other recognitions of his work as a poet, he has received the Hawthornden Prize and the Whitbread Award. He gave the Clark Lectures, on which this book is based, in 1986.
`Well done!' is a familiar cry with a complex sense. It may applaud the merest knack, patronize a decent competence, or squarely recognize something at once finely-achieved and morally just. The language of true valuing is constantly shadowed by parodies of itself - sales-talk, sociable politeness, or gush. The Enemy's Country is concerned with the ways in which judgement is conveyed through language, and with the difficulty of clearing the terms of judgement not from but for the pressures of circumstance so that what is said may be fitting.
Poetry has sometimes been credited with a special place as a form of conduct in language, as if it were a world of words of its own from which the poet masterfully dispenses a distinctly free speech. These essays enquire whether such high praises, even when sincere, are apt to the real conditions of poets' work, to their share of drudgery, their fears of misapprehension or their need to please, to the entanglements of meaning in historical communities. The 'sheer perfection' of lyric utterance is shown to involve a recognition and acceptance of the poet's place in `the scheme of things', a scheme of business and accommodation which is not ideally clean but which remains a ground of the art's refinement.
Dryden is at the centre of the book. Around his exemplary figure, Geoffrey Hill describes with biting erudition and minutely sympathetic imagination the perplexities and felicity of genius in writers such as Donne, Hobbes, and Marvell. The book closes with a study of Pound's `Envoi:1919' in which Hill, characteristically, brings together humour, scrupulousness, and enquiring commitment to the hopes of poetry. The Enemy's Country enacts `virtue's struggle to clear and maintain its own meaning amid the commonplace approximation, the common practice of men'.
`Hill speaks at one point of `not unduly imposing one's own perplexities,' but it is precisely in his lucid exposition of these perplexities that the merit of this extraordinary guide to The Enemy's Country lies.'
`Admirers of Hill's poetry will find much in these essays of relevance to his own poetic technique ... However, the interest of these essays as part of the Hill oeuvre should not obscure their value as a contribution to 17th-century literary studies. They represent an exacting and meticulous scholarship illuminated by the acute ear of one of our finest poets and the argumentative abilities of one of the most subtle of critics. ... Hill's weaving together of
17th-century texts offers a compelling model of how the pressure of context and circumstance may be felt within the very contexture or fabric of literary style ... Hill's achievement as a poet, his
scholarship and his critical acumen more than earn him the right to be listened to with respect.'
Andrew Roberts, London Review of Books
'a remarkable little book ... Coming as it does from the pen of the distinguished British poet Geoffrey Hill, one might expect it to be well written, as indeed it is. It is also notably learned book, demanding a patient and inquiring reader ... he has not only made a valuable contribution to literary history but has also provided us with a rich and thoughtful commentary on problems as enduring as they are currently fashionable.'
Cleanth Brooks, The New Criterion, February 1992
'... his unravelling of friendly generosity and proud reservation in the text and circumstances of Dryden's 'To the Memory of Mr Oldham' seems set to become a classic of criticism.'
Roger D. Sell. Abo Akademi University. Review of English Studies Vol XLV
A Note on the Title; A Note on References in the Text; 1. Unhappy Circumstances; 2. The Tartar's Bow and the Bow of Ulysses; 3. Caveats Enough in their Own Walks; 4. Dryden's Prize-Song; 5. "Envoi: 1919"; Notes; Index