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Geoffrey Hill
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Geoffrey HILL
Nationality: English
Born: 18 June 1932
Awards: Hawthornden Prize, 1969
Whitbread Award, 1971

  • Graduated from Keble College, Oxford
  • Has taught at the University of Leeds, Cambridge, and Boston University.
  • Named Professor of Poetry at Oxford, 2010

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Geoffrey Hill:

  • "Not least among Geoffrey Hill's curious virtues as a poet is that in reading him we have no sense of an art other than his own: also that in re-reading him our sight goes more and more through the glass into the kingdom beyond, taking in further movements and features, in ever greater detail." - John Bayley, Geoffrey Hill: Essays on his Work (1985)

  • "Strong poetry is always difficult, and Geoffrey Hill is the strongest British poet now active, though his reputation in the English-speaking world is somewhat less advanced than that of several of his contemporaries." - Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hill (1986)

  • "Geoffrey Hill may be the strongest and most original English poet of the second half of our fading century, although his work is by no means either easy or very popular. Dense, intricate, exceedingly compact, his poetry has always had great visionary force." - John Hollander, The Los Angeles Times (20.9.1998)

  • "Hill's work has always been difficult, a resistantly private art weighted with literary allusion." - Langdon Hammer, The New York Times Book Review (17.1.1999)

  • "Hill is a moralist, and a severe one. He is not much given to metaphysics, or interrogations of Nature. He deals with the world on the understanding that it has already taken certain social and cultural forms, good and more often bad. Laus et vituperatio are civic acts, moral and political: they take the world otherwise for granted, it is what it appears to be, given, primary, objective. The question now is: How to live, what to do ? What is a writer's obligation ?" - Denis Donoghue, The New York Review of Books (20.5.1999)

  • "Hill's poetry for nearly half a century has defined the limit of modernist allusiveness. Can he take the benefits of opacity and then complain when misunderstood ?" - William Logan, Parnassus (2000)

  • "Let us make one thing clear: Geoffrey Hill is the greatest living poet in the English language." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian (17.11.2001)

  • "But no reader of Hill could have predicted, in 1994, that in the next eight years he would publish almost as much work as in the previous forty, that his style would be brutally re-made and the whole shape of his achievement transformed. (...) (I)t is not the case that Hill has become a tamer or more ingratiating poet. But now one can come to grips, as never before, with the kind of poet he really is." - Adam Kirsch, The New Republic (27.5.2002)

  • "If in his racy, eclectic language and in his wide range of reference he is plainly postmodern, in his themes he evokes comparison with the great modernists W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. (...) As a philosophical poet, Hill may not be at the level of Yeats, Eliot, and Stevens (not to mention Goethe or Dante), and not just because he lacks their degree of systematic clarity. But he is perhaps the best our "mean unpropitious time" affords, and that is saying a lot." - Thomas L. Jeffers, Commentary (6/2002)

  • "Hill would be delusional not to realize his poetry is beyond the reach of the common reader, or even most uncommon ones." - William Logan, The New Criterion (6/2002)

  • "Hill's work will never be fashionable but it is a corpus of such passionate seriousness and ethical thought, its every phrase written with a consciousness of the weight of history and language, that it is hard to imagine it ever being ignored." - Robert Potts, The Guardian (10.8.2002)

  • "It is impossible in a short space to convey not merely how good, but how important Geoffrey Hillís writing is. (...) There is no one alive writing in our language about deeper or more important matters, no one saying such interesting things. (...) The work of Hill is a phoenix rising from European ashes." - A.N.Wilson, The Spectator (7/9/2002)

  • "Hillís lines are the contours of an ancestral landscape. They sculpt the culture in which his work is so deeply embedded. This is what makes him Englandís most important living poet." - Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times (25/9/2002)

  • "Hill is one of those poets, along with Jeremy Prynne and Mark Ford, whose poems are most often about how difficult it is to read them. In Hill's work, this takes on a moral charge. The thing that upsets him most is inattention, and a failure to honour the dead. (...) Maybe this is why so many readers approach his work with awe and feel humbled by him. Critics queue up to say, unequivocally, that he is the best poet working in English." - Tom Payne, Daily Telegraph (28/9/2002)

  • "In reading his last collection The Orchards of Syon I was startled to realize that Hill has been writing his incomparable poetry for over fifty years now and that each new book of his has been a fresh, and sometimes unexpected, triumph. The combination of immaculate poetic skill with intense originality is always rare, and never more so than in our diminished age. Perhaps this explains why Hill has been so largely ignored by the purveyors of accolades and fat cash awards; while bevies of mediocrities stagger under their unmerited laurels, Hill continues to compose his grave, raucous, piercing, and marmoreal lyrics, drawing on a huge range of reference to many cultures and languages from antiquity to the present." - Eric Ormsby, The New Criterion (4/2003)

  • "Hill is not the poet to bring up, then, if you wish to succeed in genteel society. His work is the antithesis of almost every contemporary notion of what a poet should be producing: incalculably learned, forbiddingly allusive, dauntingly complex, fiercely passionate about English landscape and history, and with what looks like a suspiciously un-left-wing set of political and religious beliefs." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian (21/1/2006)

  • "He well repays a reader's quiet attention." - Robert Potts, The Observer (24/1/2006)

  • "(H)e is the one certain genius now at work in the English language, or, if you prefer, the poet with the truest ear for the genius of the language, and he is busily putting together, in the eighth decade of his life, a body of late poetry such as we have scarcely seen." - Alan Marshall, Sunday Telegraph (12/2/2006)

  • "The fault line in Geoffrey Hill's poetry has always fallen between conscience and self-regard. His early books, sparse and infrequent as they were, seemed haunted by the difficulty of saying anything. The result, paradoxically, was a meditative poetry of rhetorical grandeur, riven with ambiguity. One had the sense of a poet striving to free the poem of his own personality, yet tempted by self-regard or self-contempt, anxious to test every word for possible duplicities. In the late 1990s all that changed. Developments in Hill's life loosened his tongue, permitting a flow of self-disclosure he would formerly have shunned." - Clive Wilmer, New Statesman (27/2/2006)

  • "Hill has often given the impression of wanting to communicate, if only he didnít find it humiliating (communication being an act of love) -- he has dressed up this aversion in thunderous essays, but I donít believe that clarity inevitably soils meaning with the unctuous language of public consumption. Besides, there are moments when no living English poet has written more gorgeously" - William Logan, The New Criterion (6/2006)

  • "Hill's writing, which speaks to those disputed conditions in which civil and spiritual, as well as personal lives are actually led, offers readers something more rewarding than the usual panaceas." - Peter McDonald, The Guardian (18/8/2007)

  • "Readers who, like emeritus professor Hill, have spent a lifetime teaching EngLit, seem the audience he needs. Hill writes lyric poems, but the poet-critic in him is constantly mauled by the critic-poet. The reader gasps for air. Yet from such uncompromising, conflicted impulses comes a fierce, even bitter integrity." - Robert Crawford, The Independent (31/8/2007)

  • "It is frustrating that so many descriptions of Hill's poetry des cribe him as a difficult poet. The characterisation distracts from the fact that he is, and always has been, among our greatest broken love poets. His is the sort of love poetry that extends to encompass thoughts on love in its theological forms, as well as aesthetic desire." - Sophie Ratcliffe, New Statesman (11/10/2007)

  • "For more than 50 years, however, Geoffrey Hill has written a pinch-mouthed, grave-diggerís poetry so rich and allusive his books are normally greeted by gouts of praise from critics and the bewilderment of readers who might have been happier with a tract on the mating rituals of the earwig. Hill has made brutally plain that the common reader is of no interest to him. Indeed, he believes that sinking to common ground betrays the high purpose of verse; with a withering pride he has refused, time and again, to stoop to such betrayals. This has made him a poet more despised than admired, and more admired than loved. (...) And yet. And yet. Hill is the most glorious poet of the English countryside since the first romantic started gushing about flowers, his verse so radioactive in its sensitivities that his landscapes have been accused of cheap nostalgia." - William Logan, The New York Times Book Review (20/1/2008)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Powerful voice
  • Good sense of poetry
  • Serious and moral
  • Unusual sense of history for a modern poet

    Cons:
  • Anglican and Christian tradition on which much of the writing is based makes aspects of the poetry inaccessible to many
  • The heaviness of his voice, the moral outrage that suffuses so much of his poetry
  • Terribly dense and allusive
  • Expects -- nay: requires -- familiarity with poetry, history, religion, morality, etc. etc.

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the complete review's Opinion

     Not a simple poet, and not for everyone, by any means. Moral, Anglican, traditional (hidebound, some might suggest), Hill can easily be off-putting. He wins us over on the strength of his verse -- he has a fine ear for the English language -- and the rigor to which he subjects his ideas.
     One may disagree with his approach (which is, indeed, often disagreeable), but his poetry is invariably interesting -- even if only maddeningly so. His subject matter is often obscure, but there are rewards there for the reader willing to work with the text (and, possibly, a few reference books).
     It is poetry that provokes thought and that lingers, functioning on both a purely sensual as well as a purely intellectual level (though the intellectual tends to impose itself more emphatically). Hill is not an enormously popular poet, but he deserves a larger audience.

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Links

Geoffrey Hill: Geoffrey Hill's Books at the complete review: Other books of interest under review:

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