… the bulk of Clavics turns out to be extraordinarily difficult, almost impossible, to parse, and all too many passages that do yield up paraphrasable sense read like implausible headlines or mnemonic devices, as though they had been composed according to an Old-Norse verse form after one too many quaffs of mead: “Erasmus, in Praise of Folly: / Grand antidote no substitute for bling”; “Richard Dadd dab hand at Prize Depiction”; “Straw men in flagrante folk-upbraided”. It’s not that one can’t identify some of the themes to which Hill has dealt with so often throughout his career, particularly the relation between political power (violence) and art. The problem, rather, is that what he says about these topics here so often verges on gibberish.I introduced Geoffrey Hill once, at the 92d Street Y in New York. He told the audience that the best way to read his work was just to read it, and not worry about allusions and the like (adding, wryly, that he often missed them himself sometimes). I think that is good advice. Don't try to figure it out, just let it sink in.
In the meantime, since Jean Jaurès is mentioned at the start, let's pause and listen to a Jacques Brel song: