Geoffrey Hill Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Born on June 18, 1932, in the small market town of Bromsgrove, in Worcestershire, England, Geoffrey William Hill grew up in a nearby village, Fairfield, where his father worked as a police officer. A lonely, introspective child who often went for solitary walks, he sometimes recited to himself poetry from Oscar Williams’s A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry, English and American (1946), a popular collection stressing such modernists as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams.

Hill’s devotion to poetry continued after his enrollment at Keble College, Oxford, in 1950. Though not among the most active members of the young Oxford literary set, he concentrated on his English studies, acquiring a thorough knowledge of English literary and intellectual history. Under the aegis of Hall, a well-known poet and translator of Japanese literature, Hill published a few poems that at once attracted attention, but this success did not sway him from his intention to become a university teacher and scholar of English.

After graduation, he accepted a post in the English department of Leeds University, where he benefited from contact with G. Wilson Knight, generally regarded as the foremost twentieth century Shakespeare critic. Knight, like Hill, was a polymath interested especially in the religious and symbolic aspects of poetry. Under the stimulus of Knight, among others, Hill continued to write verse while earning a reputation as a difficult, immensely learned lecturer.

Hill married Nancy Whittaker in 1956, and the couple had four children. His career since the 1950’s has in essence continued the pattern laid down in his early adulthood, though the success of his verse has transformed him from an academic who writes poetry into a poet who also works as a scholar. In 1980, he was elected fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a college famous for its English faculty, like F. R. Leavis, one of the most formidable, controversial twentieth century critics. In 1987, he married Alice Goodman; the couple had one daughter. In 1988, he became university professor and professor of literature and religion at Boston University and later codirector of the Editorial Institute. In 2006, Hill moved back to Cambridge.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Geoffrey William Hill was born into a working-class (“red brick”) British family, educated at Keble College, Oxford University, and subsequently spent his life in academe, from 1954 to 1980 at the University of Leeds in Yorkshire, where he rose to the rank of senior lecturer in English. He then accepted a position at Cambridge University as a university lecturer from 1980 to 1988. In 1988, he moved to the United States to become a professor of literature and religion at Boston University.

Hill is among England’s most highly decorated living poets. For the Unfallen earned him the E. C. Gregory Award for Poetry in 1961; King Log the Hawthornden Prize in 1969 and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1970; Mercian Hymns the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize from the Poetry Society in 1971 and the Heinemann Award from the Royal Society of Literature in 1972; and Tenebrae the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize in 1979. Speech! Speech! was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2001. In addition to such recognition of his individual works, Hill’s place in British letters has garnered him laurels such as the Loines Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1983 and the Ingram Merrill Foundation award in literature, 1985. His poetry is more highly rewarded than widely read, however, and more admired perhaps than liked. His place in British letters is as an academic poet writing for a highly literate and doggedly patient literary audience. Hill’s work is among the most difficult of postwar Britain.

The essay collection The Lords of Limit offers his readers a glimpse into the sensibility behind the poetry. In nine essays, drawn in part from his university lectures, Hill addresses a variety of works, ranging from the apparently accessible poetry of Jonathan Swift to two apparently intractable dramatic poems by Ben Jonson, Sejanus and Catiline. One comes away from the book less with clear explications in hand than with a sense of Hill’s conception of the literary art. It is when literature most stubbornly refuses to explain itself or be easily explained by a reader that Hill is intrigued. Poetry is to be read and reread and through that process understood, but never does high poetry lend itself to the kind of keen analysis and discrete exposition that has become standard in modern academic circles. Such an aesthetic should surprise none of Hill’s readers.

Considerable pleasures may be had from Hill’s poetry, but they come at...

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