Geoffrey Hill, a poet regularly hailed as the greatest in the English language, died suddenly on 30 June at the age of 84.
Hill’s wife, the librettist Alice Goodman, announced his death on Twitter. “Please pray for the repose of the soul of my husband, Geoffrey Hill, who died yesterday evening, suddenly, and without pain or dread,” she wrote. Emmanuel College in Cambridge, where Hill was an honorary fellow, confirmed the news.
Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy paid tribute, saying that “he was, in poetry, a saint and a warrior who never gave an inch in his crusade to reach poetic truth. In four words – ‘God is distant, difficult’ – he could suddenly illuminate, like lightning over a landscape.”
Filling the prestigious role of Oxford’s professor of poetry from 2010 until 2015, Hill was knighted for his services to literature in 2012 and was greatly acclaimed by critics and fellow poets. Mercian Hymns, published in 1971, was a collection of prose poems that combined the life of the eighth-century Mercian ruler, King Offa, with memories of Hill’s own childhood in the Midlands. Broken Hierarchies, a collection published in 2013 that assembled 60 years of poetry, was judged by the Times Literary Supplement to be “work of the first importance”.
The son of a village policeman, Hill has said that he was “glad and proud to have been born into the English working class”. He went on to study at Oxford University, where he gained a first in English literature and published his first poems.
In Memory Of Jane Fraser
by Geoffrey Hill
When snow like sheep lay in the fold
And wind went begging at each door,
And the far hills were blue with cold,
And a cloud shroud lay on the moor,
She kept the siege. And every day
We watched her brooding over death
Like a strong bird above its prey.
The room filled with the kettle’s breath.
Damp curtains glued against the pane
Sealed time away. Her body froze
As if to freeze us all, and chain
Creation to a stunned repose.
She died before the world could stir.
In March the ice unloosed the brook
And water ruffled the sun’s hair.
Dead cones upon the alder shook.