Hillyer was born in East Orange, New Jersey. He attended Kent School in Kent, Connecticut and graduated from Harvard University in 1917. After graduating he went to France and volunteered with the S.S.U. 60 of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps serving the Allied Forces in World War I. He had long links to Harvard University, including holding a position as a Professor of English. He also taught at Kenyon College and the University of Delaware.
While teaching at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in the late 1920's, Hillyer was made a member of the Epsilon chapter of the prestigious St. Anthony Hall Delta Psi literary fraternity in 1927.
Hillyer is remembered as a kind of villain by Ezra Pound scholars, who associate him with his 1949 attacks on The Pisan Cantos in the Saturday Review of Literature which sparked the Bollingen Controversy.
Hillyer was identified with the Harvard Aesthetes grouping.
Hillyer is a formalist, meaning that his poetry is in meter and often rhyme. The Houghton Mifflin Chronology of U.S. Literature says he is "best known for his use of the heroic couplet." He is known for his sonnets and for such poems as "Theme and Variations" (on his war experiences) and the light "Letter to Robert Frost".
Hillyer won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Collected Verse in 1934.
American composer Ned Rorem's most famous art song is a setting of Hillyer's "Early in the Morning".
- Eight Harvard Poets (contributor). New York: Laurence J. Gomme, 1917.
- Sonnets, and other lyrics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press / London: Humphrey Milford / Oxford University Press, 1917.
- The Five Books of Youth. New York: Brentano's, 1920.
- Alchemy: A symphonic poem. New York: Brentano's, 1920.
- The Hills Give Promise: A volume of lyrics / Carmus: A symphonic poem. Boston, MA: B.J. Brimmer, 1923.
- The Halt in the Garden. London: Elkin Mathews, 1925.
- The Seventh Hill. New York: Viking Press, 1928.
- The Gates of the Compass: A poem in four parts, together with twenty-two shorter pieces. New York: Viking Press, 1930.
- Collected Verse. New York: Knopf, 1933.
- A Letter to Robert Frost, and others. New York & London: Knopf, 1937.
- In Time of Mistrust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940.
- Pattern of a Day. New York: Knopf, 1940.
- Poems for Music, 1917-1947. New York: Knopf, 1947.
- Poems for Music, 1947-1948. New York: Knopf, 1948.
- The Death of Captain Nemo: A narrative poem. New York: Knopf, 1949.
- The Suburb by the Sea: New poems. New York: Knopf, 1952.
- The Relic, and other poems. New York: Knopf, 1957.
- Collected Poems. New York: Knopf, 1961.
- The Engagement Ring: A comedy. Hartford, CT: Haylofters, 1927.
- The Masquerade: A comedy. Hartford, CT: Pyne Printery, 1928.
- Riverhead. New York: Knopf, 1932.
- My Heart for Hostage. New York: Random House, 1942; London: Chapman & Hall,1943.
- Some Roots of English Poetry. Norton, MA: Wheaton Press, 1933.
- Robert Bridges and the Testament of Beauty. [1942?]
- The Heritage of the English-speaking peoples, and their responsibility. Gambler, OH: Kenyon College, 1948.
- First Principles of Verse. Boston: The Writer, 1950.
- The Pursuit of Poetry. Huntington, WV: Marshall College, 1957.
- Anniversary Lectures, 1959. Washington, DC: Reference Dept., Library of Congress, 1959.
- In Pursuit of Poetry. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.
- A Book of Danish Verse: Translated in the original meters (translated with Samuel Forster Damon). American-Scandinavian Association, 1922.
- The Coming Forth by Day: An anthology of poems from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, together with an essay on the Egyptian religion. Boston: B.J. Brimmer, 1923.
- Eight More Harvard Poets (edited with Samuel Foster Damon). New York: Brentano's, 1923.
- Prose Masterpieces of English and American Literature (edited with Kenneth Ballard Murdock & Odell Shepard). New York: Harcourt Brace, 1931.
Audio / video Edit
- Robert Hillyer: Reading his own poems (78). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Film Service, 1940.
- Robert Hillyer at Poets' Corner (1 poem).
- 6 poems by Hillyer: "When noon is blazing on the town," "Domesday," "The winter night is hard as glass," "The trees have never seemed so green,"A Pastoral," "Winter Night"
- Robert Hillyer (1895-1961) at Harvard Square Library (7 poems)
- Robert Hillyer 1895-1961 at the Poetry Foundation.
- Robert Silliman Hillyer at Sonnet Central (34 sonnets)
- Robert Silliman Hillyer at PoemHunter (35 poems)
- Robert Sillman Hillyer at Poetry Nook (87 poems)
- "Treason's Strange Fruit," Saturday Review of Literature
- "Poetry's New Priesthood," Saturday Review of Literature
- Works by Robert Hillyer at Project Gutenberg
- Robert Hillyer at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Robert (Silliman) Hillyer in the Oxford Dictionary of Writers and their Works.
- Robert Hillyer at eNotes
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