Geoffrey Hill, Oxford’s Professor of Poetry, has received a knighthood for services to literature in the New Year’s Honours List.
Professor Hill, who has been described as the “greatest living poet writing in the English language,’ has produced more than fifteen volumes of celebrated poetry, including the acclaimed King Log and Speech! Speech!, in a career spanning over fifty years. Hill has also written four volumes of influential literary criticism.
In June 2010, he became the 44th occupant of one of the most distinguished literary chairs in existence, Oxford’s Professor of Poetry, succeeding Christopher Ricks in a line of incumbents that includes Matthew Arnold, W. H. Auden, Robert Graves and Seamus Heaney. A record 2,500 votes were cast in the election, of which Hill secured the overwhelming majority – more than three times than that of his nearest rival, Michael Horovitz.
Dr. Peter McDonald, Christ Church Tutor, literary critic and editor of Geoffrey Hill: Essays on His Later Work, spoke to Cherwell of the importance of the honour, commenting, “Geoffrey Hill has been for a very long time now the best poet writing in English; in my view, he is also a poet of permanent importance, whose work certainly ranks alongside that of Yeats and Eliot in power, memorability, and originality. Three such poets in a hundred years are all any culture can reasonably expect.
“The knighthood is right and proper as an expression of national pride, though it must be added that the British poetry world has seldom been inclined to take any particular pride in Hill’s achievements: this reflects badly on that little world, but will be of no consequence in the longer term. Oxford’s securing Sir Geoffrey’s services as Professor of Poetry will I think come to be seen as a great triumph for our University.”
Dr Seamus Perry, Lecturer and Deputy Chair of Oxford’s English Faculty Board, also sang Hill’s praises. He said, “This is a wonderfully fitting tribute from the Crown to England’s greatest living poet. For more than half a century Hill’s works have meditated upon the history and politics of these islands with an unrivalled imaginative tenacity and a fiercely engaged moral intelligence that is wholly unique: this recognition is thoroughly deserved. I hope he gets the Nobel next.”
Dr. Daniel Tyler, English tutor at Lincoln, was “delighted” by the honour, telling Cherwell, “It is good news that such a fine poet has been recognised in this way. Although best known for his poetry, Geoffrey Hill is also a literary critic of the highest order – as all those of us who have enjoyed his stimulating lectures as Professor of Poetry can attest. In all his writing, he strives for precision of thought and expression rather than popular appeal, but if the award of this honour brings his writing to the considered attention of a larger body of readers, then it will have done a good thing.”
One English student at Corpus Christi acknowledged, “As a poet who is not only current but also connected into both the academic and composition sides of the art, Geoffrey Hill is a clear candidate to represent the profession.”
The New Year’s Honours List had a strong literary presence this year. Novelist and Oxford graduate Penelope Lively became a Dame, whilst Australian writer Clive James and author Rachel Billington were awarded CBEs. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Oxford’s Professor of the History of the Church, also received a knighthood in recognition of his services to scholarship.
Sir Geoffrey Hill is a fellow of Keble College, Oxford. His latest work, Clavics, is shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Poetry 2011. Since June 2007, he has completed five new collections of poems, scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press in 2013. In 2009 his Collected Critical Writings won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, the largest annual cash prize in English-language literary criticism.