Geoffrey Hill

Geoffrey Hill

"For the British aeronautical engineer and professor, see Geoffrey T. R. Hill"

Geoffrey Hill (born June 18, 1932) is an English poet, professor emeritus of English literature and religion, and former co-director of the Editorial Institute, at Boston University.


Geoffrey Hill was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England, in 1932. When he was six, his family moved to nearby Fairfield in Worcestershire, where he attended the local primary school, then the grammar school in Bromsgrove. In 1950 he was admitted to Keble College, Oxford to read English, where he published his first poems in 1952, at the age of twenty, in an eponymous Fantasy Press volume (however before that he'd been published in the "Oxford Guardian"—magazine of the University Liberal Club—and "The Isis").

Upon graduation from Oxford with a first, Hill embarked on an academic career, teaching at the University of Leeds from 1954 until 1980. After leaving Leeds, he spent a year at the University of Bristol on a Churchill Scholarship before becoming a teaching Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he taught from 1981 until 1988. He then moved to the United States, to serve as University Professor and Professor of Literature and Religion at Boston University. In 2006, he moved back to Cambridge, England.

Professor Hill was awarded an honorary DLitt from the University of Leeds in 1988. He is also Honorary Fellow of Keble College, Oxford; Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; and since 1996 a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is married to Alice Goodman.


Hill is, by the majority of critics, considered to be among the most distinguished poets of his generation.Facts|date=January 2008 Set apart from contemporary 'Movement' writers of the 1950sFacts|date=January 2008, and seemingly uninfluenced by writers of subsequent decades, Hill's poetry encompasses a variety of styles, from the dense and allusive writing of "King Log" (1968) or "Canaan" (1997) to the simplified syntax of the sequence 'The Pentecost Castle' in "Tenebrae" (1978) to the more accessible poems of "Mercian Hymns" (1971), one of his best selling books, a series of thirty poems (sometimes called 'prose-poems' a label which Hill rejects in favour of 'versets' [In 'An Interview' with John Haffenden Hill remarks: "They're versets of rhythmical prose. The rhythm and cadence are far more of tuned chant than I think one normally associates with the prose poem. I designed the appearance on the page in the form of versets." See also: Elisabeth Mary Knottenbelt, "Passionate Intelligence: The Poetry of Geoffrey Hill", p. 190] ) which juxtapose the history of Offa, eighth century ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, with Hill's own childhood in the modern Mercia of the West Midlands.

Hill is often described, in reference both to his style and subject, as a difficult, demanding poet. He makes circumspect use of traditional rhetoric (as well as that of modernism), but he also (especially in the late work) transcribes the idioms of public life, such as those of television, politics (its sloganeering) and punditry. For matter, Hill has been drawn to morally problematic and violent episodes in British and European history, though it should be noted that his accounts of landscape (especially that of his native Worcestershire) are charged with the same intensity as his encounters with history. (He has written perhaps the most important poetic responses to the Holocaust in English, 'Two Formal Elegies', 'September Song' and 'Ovid in the Third Reich'.) In an interview in "The Paris Review" (2000), where 'Genesis' was published when he was still at Oxford, Hill defended the right of poets to difficulty as a form of resistance to the demeaning and profitable simplifications imposed by 'maestros of the world'. Hill has also argued that to be difficult is to be democratic, and he equates the demand for simplicity with the characteristics of tyrants.

Hill's distaste for conclusion, however, has led him, in 2000's "Speech! Speech!" (118), to scorn the latter argument as a glib get-out: 'ACCESSIBLE / traded as DEMOCRATIC, he answers / as he answers móst things these days | easily.' Indeed, throughout his corpus it is impressed upon the reader that Hill, a palpably gifted lyrist, is uncomfortable with the muffling and fudges of truth-telling that verse designed to sound well, for its contrivances of harmony, must permit. The constant buffets of Hill's suspicion or scrupulous wariness of lyric eloquence—can it truly "be" eloquent?—against his powerful talent for it (in "Syon", a sky is 'livid with unshed snow') become in the poems a sort of battle in style, where passages of singing force ("ToL": 'The ferns / are breast-high, head-high, the days / lustrous, with their hinterlands of thunder') are balanced with ones of prose-like academese and inscrutable syntax. Such subtle unrest ends up dramatising Hill's real condition (of which we learn in the long interview collected in Haffenden's "Viewpoints"): that of the poet warring himself to witness honestly, to make language, that tool for whose lyric use his aptitude may be unfortunate, say truly what he believes is true of the world.

Controversy, Explanation and Parody

The violence of Hill's aesthetic has been criticised by the Irish poet-critic Tom Paulin, who draws attention to the poet's use of the Virgilian trope of 'rivers of blood' – as deployed infamously by Enoch Powell – to suggest that despite Hill's multi-layered irony and techniques of reflection, his lyrics often seem to draw their energies from an outmoded nationalism expressed in what Hugh Haughton has described as a 'petrified language largely invented by the Victorians'. Fact|date=February 2007 And yet Hill's worldwide reputation exceeds that of any other living British poet; Harold Bloom has called him 'the strongest British poet now active.' Fact|date=April 2007 For his part, Hill very ably addressed and rebuffed some of the misperceptions about his political and cultural beliefs in a Guardian interview in 2002. Therein he suggests that his affection for the "radical Red Torys" of the 19th Century, while recently misunderstood as reactionary, was actually evidence of a progressive bent tracing back to his working class roots. He also indicated that he could no longer draw a firm distinction between "Blairite Labour" and the Thatcher-era Conservatives, lamenting that both parties had become solely oriented toward "materialism".

Hill's unmistakable style has also been subject to parody: Wendy Cope includes a parody of a 'Mercian Hymn' in "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis".



* "For the Unfallen" (1958)
* "King Log" (1968)
* "Mercian Hymns" (1971)
* "Tenebrae" (1978)
* "The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy" (1983)
* "New and Collected Poems" (1994)
* "Canaan" (1997)
* "The Triumph of Love" (1998)
* "Speech! Speech!" (2000)
* "The Orchards of Syon" (2002)
* "Scenes from Comus" (2005)
* "Without Title" (2006)
* "Selected Poems" (2006)
* "A Treatise of Civil Power" (2005; 2007)


* "The Lords of Limit" (1984)
* "The Enemy's Country" (1991)
* "Style and Faith" (2003)
* "Collected Critical Writings" (2008)


External links

* [] Faculty Page at Boston University
* [] Geoffrey Hill Study Centre
* [] The Geoffrey Hill Server
* [,3858,4478610-110738,00.html] Guardian profile of Hill, celebrating his 70th birthday
* [,3858,4505022-110738,00.html] Hill on the 'beautiful energy' of his poetry
* [] Criticism and a little praise of Hill's poetry in "Subduing the reader" by Laurie Smith in "Magma", No. 23, Summer 2002

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