An important poem about bearing witness to atrocity
Geoffrey Hill, who died in 2016, once defended ‘difficulty’ in poetry, arguing that ‘genuinely difficult art is truly democratic’. Human beings are complicated, so any poetry that is to be worthy of us should reflect our complexity, whether moral, emotional, or intellectual. ‘September Song’ reflects Hill’s dedication to this principle, tackling one of the most ‘difficult’ subjects for a poet to write about: the Holocaust. ‘September Song’, which can be read here, was published in 1968.
The poem is grimly prefaced by the birth and death dates of a child who, we are told, was ‘deported’ in 1942. As we read on, we realise that ‘deported’ is a military euphemism, and the child was in fact killed in 1942, aged just ten years old, presumably in one of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. The (fictional) child’s birth date, ‘19.6.32’, is significant:…
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