Monday, July 4, 2016

Geoffrey Hill, June 18, 1932 - June 30, 2016

If there is a poet's heaven, it might well look like this  ———

But one could also make an argument that a poet's paradise is wherever his or her heart is happy. There is no doubt that Sir Geoffrey's heart was happy with Reverend Alice Goodman, and in his last home, at The Rectory, among the dogs and cats. There he often wrote poetry in the garden, next to flowers planted by his wife. Alice gave him just the right circumstances to write in, and she was also his perfect critic, a reader (and writer) whose judgments of his words he valued and trusted. He drew colorful sketches for her of a World War I poilu, and several of his later works were dedicated to her.

She was also the one to announce his death to the world in a tweet. A tweet is such a small sound, a bird singing, not heard over the louder noises of the world, not heard over the traffic of cars, over the machinery that inevitably never stops moving. Yet a tweet arrives to family members all over the globe in seconds. It can be quickly seen by dear friends. The electronic tweet in 140 characters or less, offered the constraint of containment. It was sent just before noon on Friday, and said:

Please pray for the repose of the soul of my husband, Geoffrey Hill, who died yesterday evening, suddenly, and without pain or dread.

A tweet is also a public statement, in that when it is noticed, social media and the press will eventually follow. But this tweet is quiet.: 'Please pray', 'repose', 'soul'.  It offers comfort: 'without pain or dread'. The sheer hard factual impact of the middle words 'who died yesterday evening, suddenly' has been carefully composed. And then, one may perceive, that there is yet a flood of pain: 'my husband'.

He was not just the greatest living poet in the English language, he was also a husband and a father.

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Sir Geoffrey Hill, Oxford Professor of Poetry, has been celebrated in France in large part thanks to René Gallet who encountered his work in the late 1960s, and read King Log as a young man. His translations of Hill's poems, especially Scènes avec Harlequins (1998), and Le Triomphe de l'amour (2007), led to larger interest in Hill in France, and since the 1990s, he has been the object of numerous doctoral theses. Hill made occasional visits to France, drawing inspiration for his poetry there. His visits also included readings at the University of Caen (2008), the Collège de France (2008), the Ecole Normale Supérieure (2012), and the Institut Catholique de Paris (2013). Accompanied by Kenneth Haynes, Hill made a public visit to Charles Péguy's grave at Villeroy in 2013.

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Sir Geoffrey Hill died on June 30, 2016, amid the loud noises of Brexit that managed to drown out the 100th anniversary commemoration of the carnage of the Battle of the Somme. His passing was immediately followed by the death of the greatest living French poet, Yves Bonnefoy on July 1, and then on July 2, by Elie Wiesel and Michel Rocard. All four were strongly marked by World War II, and lived their lives trying to promote a more just and peaceful world. As circumstance has it, both Hill and Wiesel were teaching at Boston University at the same time, in the Professor's program, where Hill's office was located on the floor above Wiesel's.

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While Sir Geoffrey probably never typed a tweet or used Facebook, I suspect he occasionally looked over his wife's or daughter's shoulder to find out what was being said. If he is still somehow there, looking over his children's shoulders, here is what he will be seeing:

Geoffrey Hill has died. If there's a greater poem published in my lifetime than The Triumph of Love, I haven't read it. -- Tim Kendall

I am heartbroken by the thought that this great poet, this great European, died so close to the tremors of our national crisis. His poetry has been a fierce and intelligent solace in dark times over this past week -- Karl O'Hanion 

A tremendous loss. He was a poet and a person to be reckoned with. -- Dylan Willoughby

I first encountered Sir Geoffrey Hill's poetry in the 1980s, as a young law student in Washington DC, picking up a remainder copy of 'The Mystery of The Charity of Charles Peguy'. No other poet has had more of an impact on me since. -- Clif Wiens

What Hill said of Stallworthy also applies to himself: "He was a luminary of our time." -- Christopher Lee Miles

Geoffrey Hill, the greatest British writer, has died. A ridiculous week concludes with the most appalling loss. -- Bryan Appleyard

We have lost a great poet in Geoffrey Hill.  -- Mark Oakley

He was gifted with an astounding technical knowledge which placed him in a tradition running from Chaucer to Ezra Pound -- Rodrigo Petronio 

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Matt Schudel, Geoffrey Hill, often hailed as Britain's greatest poet, dies at 84, Washington Post (July 4, 2016).

Matthew Sperling, Geoffrey Hill, An English European, Economist 1843 (July 4, 2016).

Sir Geoffrey Hill, Fiercely intelligent curmudgeon hailed as our greatest but most difficult poet, Times (July 2, 2016).

Robert Potts, Sir Geoffrey Hill Obituary, Guardian (July 1, 2016). 

Sir Geoffrey Hill, Obituary, Telegraph (July 1, 2016).

William Grimes, Geoffrey Hill, Dense and Allusive British Poet is Dead at 84, New York Times (July 1, 2016).

Samir Raheem, Geoffrey Hill: 'poetry should be shocking and surprising', Telegraph (July 1, 2016).

Rodrigo Petronio, Poeta Geoffrey Hill morre aos 84 anos, Estadão (July 1, 2016).

Anna Leszkiewicz, Poet Sir Geoffrey Hill dies aged 84, New Statesman (July 1, 2016).

Poet Sir Geoffrey Hill dies aged 84, BBC News (July 1, 2016).

Testimonies, other articles, poems, audio 

David Yezzi talks to Curtis Fox, The Achievement of Geoffrey Hill, Poetry off the Shelf at Poetry Foundation, 17 minutes (early July 2016).

Rowan Williams remembers Geoffrey Hill, Guardian (July 9, 2016).

Lauren Jeal, Tributes paid to renowned and popular poet Sir Geoffrey Hill, Bromsgrove Standard (July 9, 2016).

Rev. Alice Goodman and Robert Potts with Matthew Bannister (on Caroline Ahern, Elie Wiesel, Sir Geoffrey Hill, Lord Mayhew, Michael Cimino), produced by Dianne McGregor, BBC (July 8, 2016).

Alan Jenkins reads from "Scenes with Harlequins" by Geoffrey Hill, TLS Voices (July 7, 2016).

Ishion Hutchinson, Funeral Masque: An Elegy for Geoffrey Hill, Literary Hub (July 7, 2016).

Oriane Vialo, Décès ce 30 juin de l'un des plus grands poètes anglais, Geoffrey Hill, ActuaLitté (July 4, 2016).

Andrew McNeillie, at Clutag Press (July 3, 2016). 

Tamsin Omond at Top of the World Blog (July 3, 2016).

Geoffrey Hill at 3 Quarks Daily (July 3, 2016).

Liam Guilar, Sir Geoffrey Hill 1932-2016, Liam Guilar's Blog Lady Godiva (July 2, 2016).

Geoffrey Hill, tributes, Guardian (July 2, 2016).

Geoffrey Hill, Queen Mobs Teahouse (July 2, 2016).

Cynthia Haven, Book Haven Blog (July 1, 2016).

George Simmer, Great War Fiction Blog (July 1, 2016).

Clarissa Aykroyd, The Stone and the Star Blog (July 1, 2016).

Allison Flood, Geoffrey Hill, 'one of the greatest English Poets', dies aged 84, Guardian (July 1, 2016).

Robert Potts, Remembering Geoffrey Hill, Times Literary Supplement (July 1, 2016). 

Other Links, Other Memories

Paris Review, The Art of Poetry 80, Geoffrey Hill (2000).

Geoffrey Hill's Ash Wednesday sermon (2008).

Biography of Geoffrey Hill at the Poetry Foundation (

Adam Tavel on Broken Hierarchies, Rain Taxi (July 2016).