Saturday, July 2, 2016

R.I.P.: Geoffrey Hill, Oxford Poet

Sir Geoffrey Hill, uncredited photo in
Oxonian Review.
Oxonian Sir Geoffrey Hill, from Keble College, has often been praised as Britain’s finest living poet, even as the finest contemporary poetry in English.

He lived out his final years in Cambridge, where he taught in the 1980s. He also taught for many years at Boston University. He died on June 30 at 84.

In 2010 Hill was elected to Oxford's Professorship of Poetry for five years, leaving far behind the nine other candidates. The election was announced on Hill's 78th birthday, and he also received the degree of Honorary D Litt at Encaenia the following week. The Warden of Keble was his official "representative" in the election. Previous holders of the post have included John Keble and Matthew Arnold and more recently Hill's longtime colleague at Boston University, Christopher Ricks.

His complex poetry is noted for its passionate moral tone. It is chock-full of dark and learned references to violence and religion in English history, while celebrating the landscape of Worcestershire, where he was born to working-class family.

His death was announced by his wife Alice on Twitter and by Emmanuel College, Cambridge on its website.


The version of his obituary in the New York Times that I read refers to his Oxford college as "Kemble", which is a town in Gloucestershire. The Times meant Keble College. John Keble was from Gloucestershire and was an Anglican churchman, involved in the Oxford Movement along with John Henry Newman, who became a Roman Catholic. Coincidentally a Fr. John Kemble, Roman Catholic priest from Herefordshire, was martyred and sainted after the alleged "Popish Plot" of 1678 to assassinate Charles II. This John Kemble is apparently not connected with either Keble College or Geoffrey Hill.

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