Poetry News

Sir Geoffrey Hill Dies at 84

By Harriet Staff


News reached us this morning of the death of Geoffrey Hill at the age of 84. Alice Goodman, Hill's wife, confirmed his death today in a tweet.

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The Telegraph remembers Hill, writing:

Sir Geoffrey Hill, who has died aged 84, was a poet and scholar whose combative and often impenetrable work led critics to hail him as one of Britain’s greatest writers.

His genius – and his durability – were widely acclaimed in his later years, with his election in 2010 as Oxford Professor of Poetry for five years and in 2012 a knighthood, which he accepted to honour his parents.

His abiding theme was culture, and he would keep returning to the question of whether we have the right language to commemorate or lament the past. Hill’s poetry abounds in Latin puns, Hebrew epigrams, anagrams, fun with misprints, references to medieval theologians and coded allusions to any critics who have registered unease with his aggression, or what one called his “unearned grandiloquence”.

As if to enrage them further, he produced more and more oblique poems which, for all their vatic intensity, he reasonably considered to be modern versions of Pope’s Dunciad. Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin came in for particular scorn, and in The Triumph of Love (1998) Hill dismissed the former as “that Irish professor of rhetoric”.

That insult was all the more double-edged because of Hill’s repeated unwillingness to trust the rhetoric of politicians, advertisers and even poets themselves. For all that, his own work is littered with literary devices.

Hill published a number of poems in Poetry, beginning with "Wreaths" in 1957. Hill's verse wouldn't return to the magazine for nearly 50 years with several poems appearing in the May and December 2006 issues and then again in March of 2007. Read a poem and celebrate his life. After, you may want to read Ange Mlinko's reading of Hill's “On Reading Crowds and Power.”

Originally Published: July 1st, 2016