CHICAGO -- Philip Levine, a poet and English professor at Tufts University, yesterday was awarded the $25,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize by the Modern Poetry Association in conjunction with the American Council for the Arts.

The annual prize, one of the largest in the United States offered specifically to poets, was established two years ago by Indianapolis philanthropist Ruth Lilly.

It was awarded to Levine "in recognition of his outstanding poetic achievements," said Sarah Havens, a spokeswoman for the arts council.

Levine, 59, is the author of 17 volumes of poetry, including "Selected Poems" (1984) and "Sweet Will" (1985). His 18th, "A Walk With Thomas Jefferson," is scheduled for publication later this year.

"Selected Poems" and other volumes of Levine's poetry, including "The Names of the Lost" (1976) and "Ashes" (1979), have dealt with the oppressed working class and with the Spanish Civil War.

Over the past 25 years, Levine has received numerous awards, including the Joseph Henry Jackson Award, the Chapelbrook Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Lenore Marshall Prize and three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Joseph Parisi, editor of Poetry magazine, served as chairman of the awards committee. He was joined by poets Philip Booth and Linda Pastan.

Lilly's efforts in support of American poetry include the establishment of a professorship solely for the instruction and composition of poetry at Indiana University in Bloomington. The endowed chair became effective in 1985.