An Analysis of Geoffrey Hill’s Little Apocalypse

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An Analysis of Geoffrey Hill’s Little Apocalypse


     Seamus Heaney’s “The Redress of Poetry” reveals the idea that “it is the imagination [of poetry] pressing back  against the pressure of reality (1).”  The two opposing forces of imagination and reality are active in Geoffrey Hill’s  “Little Apocalypse.”  The poem deals with the personal religious conflict of Friedrich Hoderlin (1770-1843), a German lyric poet.  Hill focuses on Hoderlin’s struggle with his strong belief in Greek mythology and then Contemporary Protestant theology. From this reality Hill utilizes Greek and Christian imagery.  Hill’s imagination complements Hoderlin’s reality and results in an artistic retelling and vivid depiction of the German poet’ strife.

    The first stanza addresses Holderlin’s relationship with Christianity, specifically his mother’s desire for him to be a pastor. His mother was very up front with her wishes and sent him to “monastery schools” at Maulbronn and the theological seminary in the University of Tubingen (Witte 1).  In relation to “Apocaplypse” Hill writes that Holderlin is “close enough to survive the sun’s primitive renewing fury (33).”  The sun represents Christianity and though its teachings as well as its unyielding methods of indoctrination (“primitive renewing fury”) surround him at school and home, he is “close enough” to his own religious beliefs rooted in Greek mythology (Witte 1).  The “scorched vistas” suggest that Holderlin’s perspective on religion had been modified or brought into question from his parochial education.  Hill implies that Holderlin considers his classmates as “injured” most likely in a spiritual sense but continue to be brave. Despite the injured, Hill asserts “this man [Holderlin] stands sealed against their injury.”  The image of Holderlin standing firm greatly contrasts with that of the injured and the use of “sealed” symbolizes that he held strong to his beliefs.

    The second stanza shifts to images of Greek mythology.“Hermetic radiance of great suns kept in” has a double meaning. On one hand, his religious convictions are sealed air tight and on the other Hill imagines him as Hermes the ancient god messenger. As the ancient messenger God Hill insinuates that Holderlin himself was a messenger perhaps with a religious message but confused by two different religions. The last three lines refer to the rediscovery of Holderlin’s work that has established him as “one of the outstanding lyric poets in the German language” and placed him in the ranks of the “Greatest of German poets (Witte 2).

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” Line 6 is a jab at people today that “Man’s common nature suddenly too rare:” implying that there are few people such as Holderlin. Line 7-8 “See, for the brilliant coldness of his skin,/The god cast, perfected, among the fire.” Hill invokes the image that he had died before his works were fully appreciated.

Works Cited

Heaney, Seamus. The Redress of Poetry. New York: The Noonday Press, 1995.

Hill, Geoffrey. New and Collected Poetry 1952-1992. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

Witte, William. “Holderlin, (Johann Christian)Friedrich.”
 http://www.britannica.com  6 June 2001.
 


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