A photograph of Geoffrey Hill (which he sent me after I had relocated back to Singapore in 2011) shows him in full black, the outfit set off by a beard, stark white and finely spun, the slight stoop of the shoulders curving down towards powerful hands at once resting on and pushing against a walking stick. In scrupulous manner, Geoffrey had pasted on the back the printed inscription – Geoffrey Hill, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, the permission of the Master and Fellows, and the name of the photographer – Jemimah Kuhfeld – who holds the copyright. Above the acknowledgement, and with a splendid personal touch, he had inserted a caption in his own handwriting — highly self-conscious and wittily self-mocking –– THE LAST ACTOR-MANAGER OF THE GILDED AGE!
Squinting at the present photograph, I see on the wall behind a painting by Jenny Polak which is also the property of Emmanuel College, it shows a younger Geoffrey Hill at a desk, the left hand at his brow, the right at work, caught in the moment of writing. The same eyes, intense and burdened, stare out of the frame, only this time, carefully knotted and arranged against a black shirt, a red scarf adds a flamboyant note.
Hovering somewhere with these two images is an early memory of Geoffrey. I had arrived in Leeds in the autumn of 1974, knowing no one in the department or university apart from the late Professor William Walsh for whom I was to tutor
Commonwealth literature (as the subject was then known). The ploy I picked ...
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