Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pressure under grace

William Logan reminisces about Geoffrey Hill (via):
Hill was not quite fifty, slightly barrel-chested, with a dark scurf of beard. [...] he took boyish pleasure in showing off the knickknacks and arcana displayed on a coffee table. He was proudest of the small pistol his father had carried as a police constable in Bromsgrove. I mentioned that I had been reading a lot of Larkin. “Larkin!” he exclaimed from the little kitchen, where he had gone to fix us a drink. “That yobbo!”

For the two years we lived in Cambridge, we met Geoffrey for lunch every month or so, or invited him to dinner on Pretoria Road. He dressed in black, like some English Johnny Cash, except for a pair of lurid socks—fuchsia and acid yellow were favorite colors, the rakish touch in that monkish wardrobe. Each time it was as if we were meeting as strangers. He would be stiff, heavy with a formality that lasted a quarter hour or so; then at last, by infinitesimal degrees, he would warm to the company (or just give in to the burden of friendliness). Once he did a wicked imitation of a hedgehog.

(Re hedgehogs juxtaposed with Larkin, see also.) Elsewhere: "he was not an example of grace under pressure, but of pressure under grace." And:
Toward the end of 1982, Hill loaned us the typescript of The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy. He mentioned that, where he had changed his mind, he had tried to find a word of the same number of letters, so the compositor wouldn’t be put to trouble. When I foolishly pointed out that different letters took up different amounts of space, he looked crestfallen [...] Once, in the upper stacks of the university library, he came round a corner, having loudly pronounced his irritation at not being able to find some book crucial to a footnote. Seeing me with my head buried in a book, he stopped short. “You are always there,” he said, “to observe my inadequacies and misdemeanors.”
Let me remind you, while I'm at it, of the egregious/amazing cover of the US hardcover Selected Poems.


zbs said...

One of my least favorite Larkin poems, alas. I understand of course the fauna fancy for you.

Zed said...

I did not mean to endorse or recommend the Larkin poem (which I agree about of course, though I like the use of the word "mauled"); I was just reminded of it by seeing Larkin next to a hedgehog.