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.