This posthumous collection from one of Britain's most revered poets offers a sequence of more than 270 poems that touch on a variety of themes—autobiography, history, and alarm and anger at Brexit—in a summa of a lifetime's meditation on the nature of poetry.
Although even his most abstruse poems include moments that are simple, sensuous and passionate, their prevailing circumstances are generally knotty, learned and compacted. Furthermore, Hill often flaunts these things in ways that seem to register a wish to tease his readers, perhaps even to taunt them ... [This book] contains a mass of learned allusions, and is sometimes so compressed as to border on the gnomic. But it is also often funny (in a somewhat painful and precarious way, like an elephant riding a bicycle), and startling (in its brilliantly sharp recovery of childhood scenes, especially), and just plain interesting (in its gathering of opinions about poetry and poets, politics and politicians) ... These sound patterns give the book its acoustic coherence, and this is reinforced everywhere by an almost obsessive circling of particular themes and characters and settings ... Themes of nationhood, oratory, self-examination and poetry itself compete for the poet’s focused attention. Styles of epigram, lyric, expostulation, rebuke and narration all jostle for space ... Overall, though, and perhaps because he is mindful of this being a collection of Last Things, the mood is generally less grumpy than before...so as to convey a sense of humility...with a view to capturing a deeper and stiller mood of sorrow ... In its passion and clarity, The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin will be gratefully received by those who find Hill’s earlier work his most affecting ... in its sheer abundance, as well as its manifold beauties and rigorous interrogations, the book can only confirm our sense of the magnitude of his achievement.
Named after a heretical Judeo-Christian creation myth, The Book of Baruch is, without doubt, one of the most extraordinary books of the Brexit era. Like the withdrawal process it foresees on its final page ('We shall undergo Sisyphean not Herculean labours'), Hill’s last poem is Byzantine, bad-tempered and unlikely to please anyone entirely. But, unlike Brexit, it is also scrupulously solicitous about the meaning of words and shot through with shining poetry ... The rhythmically unpredictable, clangingly associative sentences that result might be the greatest doggerel ever written in English. Like a Shakespearean fool in Speaker’s Corner, Hill’s rap-like ranting takes an anarchic joy in cacophony ... For every cinematic line flashed out from fluent memory, there is also much obscure quibbling and indignant quarrelling ... Hill’s later poetry was one of the inspired intellectual performances of our age, and he left the stage still striking thunderous profundities from the language and landscape of England[.]
There’s no plan to the book. Just as Hill doesn’t really know when he’s going to end, he doesn’t seem to know what he’s going to write about next. Memories of trips—to Cornwall, the United States, India—pop up. Books fall randomly into his hands, and prompt long sections ... More interesting are the moments when The Book of Baruch tries to define precisely what poetry is, which makes a riveting little catalogue in itself ... Despite Hill’s flagellatory self-recrimination...at times there’s a sense that he’s delivering his final testament as standup comedy ... The jokes, however, don’t mask the underlying melancholy, familiar to those who’ve followed Hill’s work over the years. The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin isn’t easy going for the casual reader, peppered as it is with unfamiliar proper names and allusions ... one detects a trace of self-doubt in this protestations, a fear that his allusiveness may be no more than an armor against oblivion[.]