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Commemoration and Commodification:
Wordsworth in Geoffrey Hill’s “Elegiac Stanzas”


University of Bergen


This article addresses poetry’s purported status of being a particularly immediate utterance, through a close reading of Geoffrey Hill’s poem “Elegiac Stanzas: On a Visit to Dove Cottage.” Although Hill is suspicious of the contemporary understanding of Romanticism, he both critically and poetically has sought to unearth a living and important legacy related to this movement. His “Elegiac Stanzas” engage in a complicated interaction with both William Wordsworth’s own precedent and the present appropriation of Romanticism. Hill’s poem remembers Wordsworth and his precedent – including a poem such as “Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle,” but also touching upon figures such as Hopkins and Milton – while also questioning the very processes underlying remembrance and literary tradition. It pits commemoration against commodification, staunchly insisting that a true poetic legacy constitutes something radically alien to the kind of touristic enjoyment proffered by the National Trust. On the other hand, though, Hill’s own poetic idiom is sufficiently conscientious to question the possibility of upholding such binary oppositions. This reading extricates the manifold layers of meaning and irony that make “Elegiac Stanzas” a particularly complex meditation on the vulnerabilities and vicissitudes of poetic memory.

Keywords: Poetry, ethics, Romanticism, memory, tradition, allusion, mediation, place, tourism, complexity



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