Peter Levi's inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford discusses the lamentation of the dead in written and oral poetry from Homer and the Bible to recent times, by way of Shakespeare, Milton and the Serbian epics. He puts forward the view that "The Lament for Arthur O'Leary", composed by his widow Eileen O'Connell, is among the finest examples of the Lamentation of the dead, and the greatest poem written in these islands in the whole of the eighteenth century. The text of Peter Levi's lecture is followed by Eilis Dillon's translation of the poem.
Peter Levi, who died in 2000, was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in 1984. Until 1977 he was a Jesuit priest. He was a classicist whose writing includes three uncategorizable books - on modern Greece, Afghanistan, and the English landscape - as well as translations, critical and scholarly works, and a thriller. But he was first and foremost a poet.