“… the structure of the archive is spectral. It is spectral a priori: neither present nor absent “in the flesh”, neither visible nor invisible, a trace always referring to another whose eyes can never be met, no more than those of Hamlet’s father, thanks to the possibility of a visor”. – Jacques Derrida (Archive Fever)
Two Formal Elegies
By Geoffrey Hill
For the Jews in Europe
Knowing the dead, and how some are disposed:
Subdued under rubble, water, in sand graves.
In clenched cinders not yielding their abused
Bodies and bonds to those whom war’s chance saves
Without the law: we grasp, roughly, the song.
Arrogant acceptance from which song derives
Is bedded with their blood, makes flourish young
Roots in ashes. The wilderness revives,
Deceives with sweetness harshness. Still beneath
Live skin stone breathes, about which fires but play,
Fierce heart that is the iced brain’s to command
To judgment—studied reflex, contained breath—
Their best of worlds since, on the ordained day,
This world went spinning from Jehovah’s hand.
For all that must be gone through, their long death
Documented and safe, we have enough
Witnesses (our world being witness-proof),
The sea flickers, roars, in its wide hearth.
Here, yearly, the pushing midlanders stand
To warm themselves; men brawny with life,
Women who expect life. They relieve
Their thickening bodies, settle on scraped sand.
Is it good to remind them, on a brief screen,
Of what they have witnessed and not seen?
(Deaths of the city that persistently dies…?)
To put up stones ensures some sacrifice,
Sufficient men confer, carry their weight.
(At whose door does the sacrifice stand or start?)