Photo: Clara Molden.
The English poet Geoffrey Hill—a lifelong contributor to The Paris Review—has died at eighty-four. His first poem for the magazine, the aptly named “Genesis,” appeared in our second issue (Summer 1953). In his memory, we’re republishing it today.
Against the burly air I strode,Where the tight ocean heaves its load,Crying the miracles of God.
And first I brought the sea to bearUpon the dead weight of the land;And the waves flourished at my prayer,The rivers spawned their sand.
And where the streams were salt and full, The tough pig-headed salmon strove, Curbing the ebb and the tide’s pull To reach the steady hills above.
The second day I stood and sawThe osprey plunge with triggered claw,Feathering blood along the shore,To lay the living sinew bare.
And I renounced, on the fourth day,This fierce and unregenerate clay,
Building as a huge myth for manThe watery Leviathan,
And made the glove-winged albatrossScour the ashes of the seaWhere Capricorn and Zero cross,A brooding immortality—Such as the charméd phoenix hasIn the unwithering tree.
The phoenix burns as cold as frost;And, like a legendary ghostThe phantom-bird goes wild and lost,Upon pointless ocean tossed.
So, the fifth day, I turned againTo flesh and blood and the blood’s pain.
On the sixth day, as I rodeIn haste about the works of God,With spurs I plucked the horse’s blood.
By blood we live, the hot, the coldTo ravage and redeem the world:There is no bloodless myth will hold.
And by Christ’s blood are men made freeThough in close shrouds their bodies lieUnder the rough pelt of the sea;
Though Earth has rolled beneath her weightThe bones that cannot bear the light.
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