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This report is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

Geoffrey Hill's First Lecture
as Oxford Professor of Poetry
Jeffrey Wainwright
The Pro-Vice Chancellor of Oxford University was overheard marvelling that so many people should come to a lecture on poetry. Indeed, on 30 November 2010, it was radiator-sitting and standing-room only in the huge hall of Oxford's Examination Schools as some 500 people watched her accompany Geoffrey Hill to the dais for his first lecture as Professor of Poetry. Quite a few will have been long familiar with the charisma of Hill as reader and lecturer. Many more were clearly mesmerised from the moment his stick was heard beating the stone floor in procession and the now slightly stooped but still compelling figure with his spectacularly snowy beard appeared at the lectern. That he had to excuse himself for laryngitis and a chest cold only added to the sense that here we would be witnessing a very high wire act indeed.

'How ill white hairs become a fool and jester', from the newly authoritative Henry V's rejection of Falstaff, was his title and he began with a jest. Apparently, across a prattling high table, a guest had misheard his new title as 'Professor of Perjury'. From here he elaborated a significant quibble on poetry and perjury mainly illustrated from the several Shakespeare's sonnets in which the wrack of lying and perjury is explicitly addressed and love's fealty 'put to the question'. By this we were to see that we should expect no idealisation of poetry here. For Hill it is a craft 'radically perjured', its shapes wondrous and yet ...


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