September Song by Geoffrey Hill: Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem September Song by Geoffrey Hill is an elegy on a ten-year-old Jew child killed in the Nazi concentration camps. The poem is extremely ironical about man's inhumanity to human beings. In a sense, the poem is a mock-elegy; it is written in the form of conversation with the child that has been killed in a tone that sounds as if the speaker is one of the detached and apathetic observers of the horrible execution of the Jews.

Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

Indeed, he admits that he has written this elegy “for myself”; as a poet he minds how good a poem he writes! The language of this poem is full of paradoxes; it is controlled but violent. The last line may mean anything; but it can be interpreted by logically linking it to other words and ideas in the poem, as being a conclusion to the poem. The poem is subtitled in an odd manner: “Born 19.6.32 – Deported 24.9.42”. This subtitle is supposed to be a part of the epitaph (things written on the tombstone). The word “deported” is used in the sense of “to force somebody to leave a country, because they have broken the law of the country or because they do not have the right to be there” or also in the sense of “to return a person who has tried to illegally enter another country to his country”.

In the context of this poem, “deport” means to kill. In the case of ‘return a person…’ those who do it have the right to do so; in the ironical case of the killing, human beings do not have the right to decide to send others out of life. So the very subtitle is terribly ironical and satirical. In fact, the title is also equally meaningful and ironic. The song is a mourning song; and September perhaps means the winter season with the connotation of death. And that reminds us of the genocide during the Second World War.

The poem is also a sonnet. In the first stanza of seven lines, instead of eight (octave), the persona talks to the killed child to tell it that he had expected the kind of ‘deporting’ it would have to tolerate; in the second stanza, he turns to his own concern of writing poetry. He says that he has written his elegy for his own satisfaction, adding, “it is true.” May be he couldn’t give the conventional eight lines to the child, because he is too self-centered to give the child half the lines of his poems. In the second stanza, he also comments on the present life he is living. There are images of horror in his environment. As he observes this September, he sees that it is fattening on the vines. Roses are flaking (skin peeling off) from the wall; this is associatively linked to the ‘leather’ above. It means that though the persona is not willing to sympathize the child, he is himself still so horrified that he compares the peeling of the paint off walls with the flaying of the skin by the Nazis. And when the smoke of “harmless” fire drifts to his eyes, he remembers the smoke of the war and cries out: “This is plenty. This is more than enough.” The poem ends with a note of despair on the prospect of humanity. “September Song”, is one of the Hill’s early poems on the holocaust. In the middle of his address to the ghosts of Hitler’s victims, the poet pauses to confess his self-interest and his investment in writing for the dead. The apparently apathetic persona has also been horrified by the extent of inhumanity. The elegy is a frontal assault on the inhumanity of the Nazi extremism of the Second World War in particular and a satire on the savagery of all wars.

The song excavates the pathos of Nazis victims for whom a sight of outside nature like a vineyard, rose garden or chimney gave more consolation and satisfaction. The poem is therefore an elegy written on the death of docile and harmless Jews victimized by the Nazis.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "September Song by Geoffrey Hill: Summary and Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 9 Nov. 2013,

Related Topic

Geoffrey Hill: Biography