Geoffrey Hill, photographed in 1986

Geoffrey Hill was the major English poet of the last half of the twentieth century. Hill’s intransigence, his clotted difficulty, his passion for the redolent fineries of English landscape—he eyed the woods and fields like a plant hunter—have stood in magnificent solitude. Among the poets long set for A-level examinations in Britain, Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes, good poets in their way, had neither the depth nor the irritating brilliance of Hill—both Gunn and Hughes seem poets of their day, with the manners of that day. That’s the fate of most poets—for many, their highest aim. Hill was never on the syllabu ...