“For the Hillmother” is a thirty-two-line invocation of nature and paean to fertile sexuality consisting of sixteen pairs of short lines. The first line in each pair calls upon an aspect of nature, and the second asks it to perform a particular beneficent action. The poem is a secular version of a litany, a traditional form of group prayer in which a leader and a congregation recite alternating lines. Standing immediately behind this poem is the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes called the Litany of Loreto, a prayer in use in the Roman Catholic church since the sixteenth century.
In the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, the priest addresses Mary forty-nine times, using names descriptive or symbolic of her virtues or her religious significance. Forty-nine times the congregation responds, “pray for us.” A number of the names are metaphorical, some colorfully so: “Mirror of justice,” “Vessel of honor,” “Mystical rose,” “Tower of David,” “Tower of ivory,” “House of gold,” “Ark of the covenant,” “Gate of Heaven,” “Morning star.”
It is these “poetical” names, which draw upon Old Testament prophetic imagery, that John Montague’s invocations to “the Hillmother” especially call to mind, but in the poem each of the responses is different:
Hinge of silence creak for us
(The entire section is 419 words.)