Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A Double Find, and Re-learning

Browsing in one of my local charity shops this morning, I was astonished and delighted to find, side be side on the shelf, A Donald Justice Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose (Middlebury College Press) and Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love (Penguin). Both in near-mint condition, priced at a mere £1.99 each - naturally I snapped them up. And this charity shop was in Wallington, not Carshalton (South Londoners will appreciate the difference). It seems the neighbourhood is looking up...
 By way of celebration, here's a lovely sonnet from the Reader, one of Justice's piano poems, looking back to the agony and ecstasy of learning. 

The Pupil

Picture me, the shy pupil at the door,
One small, tight fist clutching the dread Czerny.
Back then time was still harmony, not money,
And I could spend a whole week practising for
That moment on the threshold.
                                               Then to take courage,
And enter, and pass among mysterious scents,
And sit quite straight, and with a frail confidence
Assault the keyboard with a childish flourish!

Only to lose my place, or forget the key,
And almost doubt the very metronome
(Outside, the traffic, the laborers going home),
And still to bear on across Chopin or Brahms,
Stupid and wild with love equally for the storms
Of C# minor and the calms of C.

I am busy re-learning the piano myself, with the aid of a high-end digital keyboard that sounds remarkably like a grand. This time around, I'm really enjoying it, partly because I have listened to and loved so much more music now, partly because I am free this time from the nerve-shredding horrors of 'grade' examinations - and indeed 'the dread Czerny'.
 But now I am off to my spiritual second home in Derbyshire for a few days... 


  1. I've heard you mention Hill's long poem before Nige and, so, have embarked on it doing due diligence in looking up all of the foreign words and learned references as a true acolyte should, I imagine. So far his "difficulty" is succeeding in repulsing my attempts to enjoy the work. I'm sure the fault is mine.As an excellent reviewer can you suggest a way in or describe how the magic works. At the moment it's the odd glimmer of comprehension amidst plentiful darkness.

  2. Well yes, he doesn't make it easy, does he? It would help if he supplied notes, which he sometimes does (e.g. The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy, his other great long poem). I can't pretend to 'get' every allusion or reference, and Hill does sometimes use what amounts to a private language - but I do find that if you just surrender and let it wash over you, don't get snagged, it does work its magic. Poetry, after all, communicates before it's fully understood. Brace yourself, dive in and swim to the far shore. (There is a good deal of exegesis - some useful, some less so - on line too.)

  3. Many thanks for taking the time