Posted: December 18, 2015 in Chat

A mannered, difficult piece from my Geoffrey Hill phase. It is not strict paralleling but more haphazard in order to mirror the nature of social and political relations of the period.

Workers and Masters

Transportees. The ones returned
free in name, kneading that name
to prove itself: ballast, in a ship
approaching storms
that they had left as draughts.

‘We regulated Reform clubs;
they tried us as traitors.
In Lincoln jail we learned our art
at the generous hand of jailors:
the skill of moral outrage
turned into language.’

‘The talk goes this way
and the talk goes that;
the arguments fly forward
and then fly back.
The weaver’s so worked
he has wrecked his back;
such a wearisome life
is the weaver’s.’

‘Proud and confused, I offer
my scrap book: see, here,
Richard Percival,
hand-loom weaver, Parliamentarian,
shot, first casualty of the Civil War
on Market Street, Manchester.’

The watermark in the weave;
how for all that, and all that,
a man is…  dutiful to his employ,
obedient to the law,
redundant  in the lean years,                                ,
to the politic
a quantum in the calculation.

And woman, man’s helpmeet,
man’s this and that, bearer
of the mark and the brunt,
the key negotiator
between need and neglect.

Pioneers. They measured out
the warp and weft of the world
battling… well, only dragons
could justify such winnings.
Treading iron-clad in the Congo,
the Americas, China colonies –
and bequeathing
Mutiny, Famine, Disease.

Home as magniloquence;
dutiful wives sew more mill slums
to the map, ‘to compensate
their years of drough.’

This was their myth, aggrandising
trading procurements;
their odyssey, the treasure won,
how they fleeced the colonies
of coffee, cotton.

In the Lords allowed themselves
Bills of Regulation, blood-bought;
a house in the country, sculpture,
English portraits: Nazarene shepherds
fat with health, children ruddy, without rickets,
and the girls demure yet buxom;
rivers, vales, seashores;
– mirrors of their assumption.

Every cloth they manufactured its signature,
the invisible snicks that watermark
how man is to man, interdependence between
need and require: the lady’s ’good work’,
and poverty’s workable negotiation.

They never read Theocritus, Homer,
nor followed Virgil, yet hatched
an Ovidian dialect
with which to address their passing
into power.


  1. viennafamous says:

    Some magnificent language in there!

  2. Candia says:

    Geoffrey Hill’s wife used to take my daughter to playgroup for me when I had just had a baby and been weakened by being on bed rest in hospital for weeks. Very kind lady. Never met her husband, however. Pity.

  3. That’s striking, Candia! Last i heard she had trained and become an Anglican minister.
    Good women, I say!

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