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 bear
Upon 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 saw
The 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 man
The watery Leviathan,
And made the glove-winged albatross
Scour the ashes of the sea
Where Capricorn and Zero cross,
A brooding immortality—
Such as the charméd phoenix has
In the unwithering tree.
The phoenix burns as cold as frost;
And, like a legendary ghost
The phantom-bird goes wild and lost,
Upon pointless ocean tossed.
So, the fifth day, I turned again
To flesh and blood and the blood’s pain.
On the sixth day, as I rode
In haste about the works of God,
With spurs I plucked the horse’s blood.
By blood we live, the hot, the cold
To ravage and redeem the world:
There is no bloodless myth will hold.
And by Christ’s blood are men made free
Though in close shrouds their bodies lie
Under the rough pelt of the sea;
Though Earth has rolled beneath her weight
The bones that cannot bear the light.