Geoffrey Hill, who died in June, believed in expressiveness not self-expressionby Sameer Rahim / July 20, 2016 / Leave a comment
On 29th November 2013, I interviewed the poet Geoffrey Hill for the Telegraph. Hill, who died on 30th June at the age of 84, was one of our great post-war poets—one with a deep understanding of the complexity of English history, faith and language. The occasion of the interview was the publication of Hill’s complete poems, Broken Hierarchies. The published interview had, necessarily, to cut out much interesting material, especially about Hill’s childhood in the Midlands, and his friendships with poets such as RS Thomas. Since his death, a number of people have asked for a transcript of the interview, which is published in edited form below. Also present was the poet’s wife, the priest and librettist Alice Goodman. We spoke at the Rectory in Fulbourn, near Cambridge.
Sameer Rahim: You are the son of a police constable. That heritage means a lot to you, doesn’t it?
Geoffrey Hill: Yes, it does. And of course the book [Broken Hierarchies] is dedicated to the memory of my father and mother. And also to the memory of an aunt I never knew. She had in fact died about 20 years before I was born. She died at the age of 15. She was my father’s beloved sister who had taken care of him after his mother died. And then she herself died with what was called then tuberculous meningitis. She was a very gifted artist, in a strictly academic way. That is to say she was absolutely splendid at doing the kind of exercises taught in British high schools around the turn of the century, around 1899-1910, and in fact we have a couple of her pieces of art in the house now.
My grandfather, my father, two uncles and two cousins were all in the old Worcestershire constabulary. My grandfather was a very formidable and gifted man. He had entered the constabulary I think probably in the very late eighties or early nineties as a constable, in the days when they wore bull’s-eye lamps on thick belts, and he retired as deputy chief constable of the county, which was the highest you could rise to from the ranks. The chief constable in those days was nearly always a retired army captain or retired army major who was brought in.