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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


The Triumph of Love

Geoffrey Hill

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To purchase The Triumph of Love

Title: The Triumph of Love
Author: Geoffrey Hill
Genre: Poem
Written: 1998
Length: 82 pages
Availability: The Triumph of Love - US
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Our Assessment:

B+ : a demanding poem, offering fair reward for the effort.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Poetry Rev. . 9-10/1999 Tom Clark
Boston . 9/1998 Ken Shulman
Daily Telegraph A 14/2/1999 Elaine Feinstein
The Independent B- 24/1/1999 Blake Morrison
The LA Times A 20/9/1998 John Hollander
London Rev. of Books . 1/7/1999 James Wood
The New Criterion . 2/1999 Eric Ormsby
The NY Rev. of Books B- 20/5/1999 Denis Donoghue
The NY Times Book Rev. A 17/1/1999 Langdon Hammer
The Observer . 31/1/1999 John Kinsella
Parnassus . 2000 William Logan
Publishers Weekly B+ 31/8/1998 .
San Francisco Chronicle . 11/10/1998 Tom Clark
The Times A 21/1/1999 R. Campbell-Johnston
TLS . 29/1/1999 Adam Kirsch
World Lit. Today . Winter/2000 Mary Kaiser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Triumph is finally a raw, exposed nerve of a work. The honesty and anger of the judgments it passes are chilling, the painful consciousness that drives them is made achingly particular in every line, and the unpretty refusal of false solutions is admirably tough-minded. Linguistically exacting, morally selfdemanding, intellectually ferocious, Geoffrey Hill's long poem begs no quarter and yields none." - Tom Clark, American Poetry Review

  • "(A)n extraordinarily lucid and often luminous poem." - Elaine Feinstein, Daily Telegraph

  • "(A)nyone new to Hill will find it hard not to feel oppressed by his erudition." - Blake Morrison, The Independent

  • "In the mazelike free-verse lines of The Triumph of Love, Hill's feelings are unbound -- and at play, mixing tragedy and farce, low diction and high. The poem unfolds as a jagged soliloquy, full of muttering and shouts, as Hill forgoes the grand style for which he has been celebrated." - Langdon Hammer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "At its best, The Triumph of Love challenges the certainties and bigotries of The Waste Land; at its worst, it allows laus et vituperatio to overwhelm the beauty of language itself. Not that Hill is unconscious of this." - John Kinsella, The Observer

  • "Geoffrey Hill's hectoring, philosophical, bitter new poem ends where it begins, in the stagnant landscape of childhood recalled, resurrection delayed, that has haunted the mean and humid nature of his verse. The Triumph of Love meets his demons on his own terms, terms favorable to demons but unfavorable to the reader." - William Logan, Parnassus

  • "Triumph is finally a raw, exposed nerve of a work. The honest fury of the judgments it passes is chilling, the unpretty refusal of false solutions admirably tough-minded. Linguistically exacting, morally self- demanding, intellectually ferocious, Geoffrey Hill's long poem begs no quarter and yields none." - Tom Clark, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The Triumph of Love is about as far from fashion or opportunism as it is possible to be (.....) exacting, academic, unbending, it creates an unyielding memorial." - Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

  • "The Triumph of Love is no less angry a book, but its style is different: more personal, less obscure, it ranges more widely than Canaan and addresses larger themes. (...) Hill's poem is definitely angry, and often sad; but no poetry written in this way can offer the consolation which is proper to art." - Adam Kirsch, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Although there are personal statements in the poem, Hill is never confessional. However, The Triumph of Love reads as the culmination of a long spiritual journey, in which one person synthesizes a profound response to his experience." - Mary Kaiser, World Literature Today

  • "The Triumph of Love (1998), one of the great long poems of the 20th century." - Jeremy Noel-Tod, London Review of Books (6/3/2003)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Geoffrey Hill's complex poem is made up of 150 stanzas of differing length. Poetic, but not lyric, it is an examination and indictment of much of the Twentieth century. It is an oblique attack, careful, and carefully directed, though no less effective for that.
       The great difficulty of the poem is in its very depth, an often murky one. Italicized foreign words and phrases (in Latin, classical Greek, German, French, Italian, ...) are frequent, and names (illustrious and obscure) are invoked/quoted/dropped at every corner. It is a learned text, thrown at us without explanation or notes. Fair enough: we should know better. Readers should have the patience and curiosity and desire to figure it all out -- but these are demanding times, and demanding poems do not figure high on the list of priorities.
       Hill obviously writes for a small audience, and perhaps even beyond that audience, for the future and whatnot. It is a fine poem, a worthy poem, though the language itself does not sustain it. Hill's expression did not completely win us over. In part it is his intent (it is a poem of ideas), just as his constantly questioning pose is. We, for one, wearied of the endless questions. We do not insist on answers, but we dislike the ball being forced into our court so insistently.

       'What ought a poem to be ?' he asks towards the end (CXLVIII. 18-9). 'Answer, a sad and angry consolation,' he tells us (one of the few answers he provides) (CXLVIII. 19-20). 'That's beautiful,' he assures us (CXLVIII. 22-3). We are not entirely convinced.

       Poetry is readily ignored in these times. Hill has written a poem worthy of some attention. It is not entirely a success, and it places great demands on the reader. We warily recommend it, to those readers willing to put in the required effort.

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The Triumph of Love: Reviews: Geoffrey Hill: Other books by Geoffrey Hill under review: Other books under review that might be of interest:
  • David Jones' The Anathemata, an obvious precursor to Hill's poem.
  • See also the index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       English poet Geoffrey Hill was born in 1932. A graduate of Keble College, Oxford, he has taught at the University of Leeds, at Cambridge, and at Boston University.

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