Introduction to the E.R. Hille Series

New Orleanian poet E.R. Hille (1911-1991) surely thought the world was finished reading his poetry. Poydras wants to assure that never happens.

In 2010, my father gave me an old chapbook called In the Beginning. Inside was the inscription:


To Mr. Paul Pegue,
E.R. Hille


Paul Pegue was my great grandfather and Mr. Hille was his dear, old friend. Hille’s collection won the American Weave Chapbook Award of 1959. It’s Foreword written by renowned publisher and poet James L. Weil (1929-2006). While one has no trouble tracking Weil down on the internet, Hille is nowhere to be found. Not as if the the internet was somehow more permanent than this small, gray chapbook, but it is a good place to be remembered. Long out of print, its publisher defunct, we’d like to deliver Mr. Hille’s work to today’s audience. Poydras Review will be serially bringing Mr. Hille’s work back to life on our blog, beginning with the Foreword by the esteemed Mr. James L. Weil:

Young Hille's poetry is as surprisingly brilliant as that July morning last summer when, after a rainy spell, I opened my door to sunlight and the American Weave issue which contained his first published poem, "Hanseel". I shudder thinking that he might never have come along, were it not for Loring Williams whose door is always open to good poets. How far Hille has come at the age of fourteen seems evident from the present collection, edited and arranged by Mr. Williams.

The longest and major poem, "A Las Dos Y Media De La Manana", recapitulates Hille's extraordinary development in a sort of spiritual Odyssey, for which the other poems can be read as daily entries. Part I of this poem shows the poet Romantically resisting a Romantic use ("raise your heart from its cushion # and throw it in our lake") that excited probably early pieces like "Hanseel" and "Song Of An Articulate Conformist". But our world is cold to sensuous warmth, "and the wind rollicks last around the hibiscus".

After Part I, Romantic resistance gives way to Romantic despair, a despair too terrible for the poet's recollection is "A Las Dos Y Media De La Manana", though manifest in a number of his other poems including "Winds That Blow In Darkness" and "Wait". Finally he "falls half in love with Death"., Keats' traditionally Romantic answer to life. "I unfold a river of myself # and throw me in his arms", Hille writes in "Dawn". Part II pictures the poet's coffin "buried just beside the cabin", illustrating the Romantic view that death is happily one short step off.

But so if life in Hille's figure. "I want to be born again", cries "Seventh Song of Selen": "I still feel the earth we see # Is dirt and that nothing flies without wings" Hille appears determined to have them, and the last two sections of the major poem recount of his search. Part III oepns wit the poet's awakening on a mountain "before the sun # nestled among the noon", a resurrection reflected by another poem "The Ruins Of A Chateau" ("And the slave rises from the dust"). Here the symbols of fire form a contrast with water in Part I, and suggest a burning away of drunken Romantic sensuousness which did indeed consume itself as the deaths of Keats and Shelley testify. That for Hille this was a reviving experience is expressed in the poem "Fourth" ("Out of the night something is born...all about the night firecrackers boom").

Part IV begins "We stopped a day beside the river...and we remember...the thaw". The water symbol recurs, but her it is not the stagnant inland lake of Part I; this is water at flow, water renewing itself with purer passion ("We saw moving in the ripples"). Beside the river Hille ends "and there is nothing to do # but stay." But we know better; rivers run inexorably toward the open sea, and Hille does reach it to perform final rites of absolution in poems Nubarron" where "the storm breaks, # and rain is ark" and again in "This Summer Flight" where "Came the flood tide # That washed you. # A fleck of dust, to the sea". Just as Hille had found the agony of despair too damned for recollection in telling "A Las Dos Y Media De la Manana", perhaps he found these rites too sacred.

Even so, I would not venture that Hille has yet arrived. Certainly he has passed through Romanticism with its tortured egocentricity, a passage inherent in the images of lake and sea. Since the process is almost dialectical - lake, freeze, fire, that, sea -, we have reason to expect that technique also shall soon condense. Surely his new poems must ride higher as they are channeled more along verbs and nouns, the source of all poetic buoyancy. Still, one can see Hille's craft has come a long way; and though he may have far to go, as does any young poet who will go far, when the flood tides recede I look forward to finding him on a peak of Parnasses.

February, 1959 JAMES L. WEIL