Tenebrae

By Geoffrey Hill b. 1932 Geoffrey Hill

He was so tired that he was scarcely able to hear a note of the songs: he felt imprisoned in a cold region where his brain was numb and his spirit was isolated.

1

Requite this angel whose   
flushed and thirsting face   
stoops to the sacrifice   
out of which it arose.   
This is the lord Eros
of grief who pities
no one; it is
Lazarus with his sores.


2

And you, who with your soft but searching voice   
drew me out of the sleep where I was lost,   
who held me near your heart that I might rest   
confiding in the darkness of your choice:   
possessed by you I chose to have no choice,   
fulfilled in you I sought no further quest.   
You keep me, now, in dread that quenches trust,   
in desolation where my sins rejoice.   
As I am passionate so you with pain   
turn my desire; as you seem passionless   
so I recoil from all that I would gain,   
wounding myself upon forgetfulness,   
false ecstasies, which you in truth sustain   
as you sustain each item of your cross.


3

Veni Redemptor, but not in our time.   
Christus Resurgens, quite out of this world.   
‘Ave’ we cry; the echoes are returned.   
Amor Carnalis is our dwelling-place.


4

O light of light, supreme delight;   
grace on our lips to our disgrace.   
Time roosts on all such golden wrists;   
our leanness is our luxury.
Our love is what we love to have;   
our faith is in our festivals.


5

Stupefying images of grief-in-dream,   
succubae to my natural grief of heart,   
cling to me, then; you who will not desert   
your love nor lose him in some blank of time.   
You come with all the licence of her name   
to tell me you are mine. But you are not   
and she is not. Can my own breath be hurt
by breathless shadows groaning in their game?   
It can. The best societies of hell
acknowledge this, aroused by what they know:   
consummate rage recaptured there in full   
as faithfulness demands it, blow for blow,   
and rectitude that mimics its own fall   
reeling with sensual abstinence and woe.


6

This is the ash-pit of the lily-fire,
this is the questioning at the long tables,   
this is true marriage of the self-in-self,   
this is a raging solitude of desire,   
this is the chorus of obscene consent,   
this is a single voice of purest praise.


7

He wounds with ecstasy. All
the wounds are his own.
He wears the martyr’s crown.
He is the Lord of Misrule.
He is the Master of the Leaping Figures,   
the motley factions.
Revelling in auguries
he is the Weeper of the Valedictions.


8

Music survives, composing her own sphere,   
Angel of Tones, Medusa, Queen of the Air,   
and when we would accost her with real cries   
silver on silver thrills itself to ice.

Geoffrey Hill, “Tenebrae” from New and Collected Poems, 1952-1992. Copyright © 1994 by Geoffrey Hill. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: New and Collected Poems 1952-1992 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994)

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Poet Geoffrey Hill b. 1932

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Faith & Doubt, Religion, Music, Arts & Sciences, Christianity

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Geoffrey  Hill

Biography

Geoffrey Hill was born in Worcestershire, England in 1932. From a working-class family, Hill attended Oxford where his work was first published by the poet Donald Hall. These poems later collected in For the Unfallen: Poems 1952-1958 (1959), marked an astonishing debut. In dense poems of gnarled syntax and astonishing rhetorical power, Hill planted the seeds of style and concern that he has continued to cultivate over his long . . .

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SUBJECT Faith & Doubt, Religion, Music, Arts & Sciences, Christianity

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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