Close reading of section 2
Section two is brief and chilling. The phrase, “self-molestation of the child-soul” sank into my mind when I first read this poem years ago and it still surfaces at unexpected moments like a rotting fish.
“That place” is clearly still Romsley, where, as I forgot to mention in my (very long) post on section 1, is near where Hill grew up. The view seen in the first section is seen by the poet’s eyes; the guilts incurred here are, at least in part, his guilts. There is a conflation here between the poet’s interior landscape and his exterior surroundings. The dramatic light-and-darkness of the first section is in his own soul.
So, the guilts: we’ve already mentioned that Romsley is the site of a the martyrdom of St. Kenelm, a child-martyr slain by his political rivals. But there is clearly more going on; two phrases in particular deserve attention. “Now I am convinced,” the poet says, which leads us to consider that at some other point in time, he was not convinced. He used to question whether guilts were truly incurred there, in Romsley, in his childhood.
We’re on theological ground now: what is guilt, especially for children? Can children incur guilt or are they free from sin in some way that we, adults, are not? It seems that the poet has concluded (possibly contrary to an earlier conviction) that guilt adheres to the young as well as to the old. And, in keeping with the multiple layers of the poem, these questions apply both to the poet/speaker as an individual and to humankind, spread out over millennia.
Then that ugly, ugly phrase: “self-molestation of the child-soul.” This phrase so brilliantly acknowledges the guilt (the “self” element) with victimization. We can’t not see the monstrous “molestation of the child” at the center of the phrase: the ugliest of crimes, for it ruins innocence. In this line, the victim becomes the perpetrator, perpetrating violence against himself. I think this is such a valuable insight into the human condition: we’re all, at the same time, victims and monsters. It’s an insight that runs through the rest of the poem.
Annotation of section 2:
This section didn’t have any elements that I felt the need to research. If you find one, please drop a note in the comments below!