New Endowed Chair Honors Professor Marie Borroff

Yale University President Richard C. Levin has announced the establishment of a new endowed professorship honoring Marie Borroff, distinguished scholar, trained musician, poet and teacher of English literature.

“Professor Marie Borroff is an outstanding scholar, teacher, poet and citizen of this University,” said President Levin. “During her long and illustrious career at Yale, she has inspired countless students, published important books and earned any number of academic distinctions — on several occasions as the first woman to do so. It is a pleasure to honor her now with an endowed chair in English that will bear her name forever.”

Borroff is the Sterling Professor Emerita in English at Yale. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Chicago before coming to Yale for her Ph.D. in English literature and philology, which she completed in 1956. In 1959, she became the first woman ever to teach in the English Department at Yale, and in 1965 was the first woman appointed to be a professor of English. She was one of the first two women to be granted tenure in any department in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and in 1991 she became the first woman on the faculty ever to be named a Sterling Professor, the highest honor bestowed on Yale faculty.

In her writings and her music, Borroff has devoted herself throughout her career to what she calls “the language of poetry and the poetry of language,” including the sounds and rhythms of words. Her scholarly interests encompass both late 14th-century and 20th-century poets. She has published many articles and books, including highly respected translations of three works by the so-called Gawain or Pearl-poet: “Patience, Pearl, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (Norton, 2001). Her translations of the remaining two Pearl-poet works, “Cleanness” and “St. Erkenwald,” will appear in 2008.

Borroff’s book “Language and the Poet” (University of Chicago, 1979) presents a detailed comparative study of the poetic language of Robert Frost, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens. In 1963, she edited a pioneering collection of critical essays about Stevens. She is also author of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Stylistic and Metrical Study” (Yale University Press, 1963) and a collection of critical and a collection of critical writings titled “Traditions and Renewals: Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and Beyond” (Yale University Press, 2003). Her poetry, composed over 50 years, was collected into a volume published by Yale in 2002, “Stars and Other Signs.” She was honored with a festschrift in 1995: “The Endless Knot: Essays on Old and Middle English in Honor of Marie Borroff,” ed. M. Teresa Tavormina and R. F. Yeager. A distinguished teacher, her lectures were videotaped for the Yale Great Teachers Series. The Yale University Alumni Association awarded her the Wilbur Cross Medal—the Graduate School’s highest honor—in 1996.

Borroff has held numerous administrative posts and committee memberships and was appointed Faculty Counselor to the Presidential Search Committee, 1992–93, charged with relaying the views of the faculty to the Committee. She is a former president of the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The first faculty member to hold the Marie Borroff Professor of English will be named at a later date. The donor of the endowment wishes to remain anonymous.