Sunday, April 6, 2008

From "A Précis or Memorandum of Civil Power," by Geoffrey Hill, in A Treatise of Civil Power

I cannot work much closer to the slub1
or perhaps it's
diffused like rumour, meaning diffused power.
How awkward this must sound. I'm reading Cornford2
from a split paperback almost my age.
John Cornford dead
in Spain at twenty-one. Ninety this year.
Plaudits for Lenin and for Bela Kun3.
Time turns sincerity to false witness
abetted by
our clear-headed stupidities; on occasion
a kind of brutishness conferred as love.
Heart of the heartless world he took from Marx
for a poem
part-way to timeless. Fine by either book.
The power-and-beauty mob has my bequest.

Not to skip detail, such as finches brisking
and stripped haw-bush;
the watered gold that February drains
out of the overcast; nomadic aconites
that in their trek recover beautifully
our sense of place,
the snowdrop fettled on its hinge, waxwings
becoming sportif in the grimy air.

I accept, now, we make history; it's not some
abysmal power,
though making it kills us as we die to loss.
What lives is the arcane; by our decision
a lifetime's misdirection and a trophy
of some renown
or else nothing; the menagerie
of tinnitus crowding a deaf man's skull
has more to say. Woman's if you so rule.
It's gibberish
we bend to or are balked by on the spot,
treatise untreatised and the staring eyes.
The windflower has more stamina to fail,
the Lent lily,
the autumn crocus with its saffron fuse,
all that we fancy and make music of,
like Shakespeare's metaphors for governance,
nature itself
brought in to conserve polity; hives of gold
proclaim a gift few of us can afford.

Say everything works well but that it works
just like mischance.
Something of value is derived regardless
of our botched loves, uncalled-for, unconnived-at.
Civil power now smuggles more retractions
than hitherto;
public apology ad libs its charter,
well-misjudged villainy gets compensated.
I still can't tell you what that power is.
The statute books
suffer us here and there to lift a voice,
judge calls prosecutor to brief account,
juries may be stubborn to work good
like a brave child
standing its ground knowing it's in the right.
Letters to the editor can show wisdom.

1. A soft thick nub in yarn that is either an imperfection or purposely set for a desired effect.
2. A slightly twisted roll of fiber, as of silk or cotton.

2John Cornford:
(1915-1936) English poet and communist, traditionalist in his poetry, radical in his politics. He died fighting for the International Brigade of the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

3Béla Kun:
(1886-1938) Hungarian communist; established Hungary as a soviet republic in 1919; toppled after a brief and decisive war with Romania, which was being supported by the Allies.

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