July 4, 2016


Geoffrey Hill, 'one of the greatest English poets', dies aged 84 : Famously difficult author acclaimed by former poet laureate Andrew Motion as a writer 'of immense gifts and originality and authenticity' (Alison Flood, 1 July 2016, The Guardian)

Filling the prestigious role of Oxford's professor of poetry from 2010 until 2015, Hill was knighted for his services to literature in 2012 and was greatly acclaimed by critics and fellow poets. Mercian Hymns, published in 1971, was a collection of prose poems that combined the life of the eighth-century Mercian ruler, King Offa, with memories of Hill's own childhood in the Midlands. Broken Hierarchies, a collection published in 2013 that assembled 60 years of poetry, was judged by the Times Literary Supplement to be "work of the first importance".

The son of a village policeman, Hill has said that he was "glad and proud to have been born into the English working class". He went on to study at Oxford University, where he gained a first in English literature and published his first poems.

More than a dozen collections would follow, from King Log to Clavics and Odi Barbare, both nominated for the Forward prize. "What / ought a poem to be? Answer, a sad / and angry consolation," he wrote in The Triumph of Love. One of his most celebrated works, the Funeral Music sequence, concludes with the lines:

If it is without 
Consequence when we vaunt and suffer, or 
If it is not, all echoes are the same 
In such eternity. Then tell me, love, 
How that should comfort us--or anyone 
Dragged half-unnerved out of this worldly place, 
Crying to the end 'I have not finished'.

"Geoffrey Hill was one of the greatest English language poets of the last 70-odd years, and time may well prove him the greatest of all," said the poet Andrew Motion. The late Seamus Heaney had backed Hill to succeed Motion as the poet laureate, ahead of the appointment of Carol Ann Duffy to the position in 2009.

"England - the matter of, and the matter with England - stands at the centre of his work, but the brilliance and ambition with which he tackles themes of historical process, religion, politics and statehood (as well as the personal past), and the way his work combines subtlety with beauty, means that from a local base he is able to address and include the world," said Motion. "From the comparatively lucid earlier poems, all the way through to their later and more difficult counterparts, he has been exemplary: a poet of immense gifts and originality and authenticity."

We used a line of his in the preface to Redefining Sovereignty, where he expressed a delightful hostility to the EU.

Posted by at July 4, 2016 7:33 PM