38. (Geoffrey Hill)

Critical Provisions

“Arsenio, let us put this joke to bed,” Geoffrey Hill enjoins Eugenio Montale in the forty-fifth numbered section of the long-poem, or Daybook, Al Tempo De’ Tremuoti.  He addresses Montale under the pseudonym, Arsenio, adopted in the poems to Clizia (Irma Brandeis, the Jewish-American Dante scholar). The “joke” is in the preceding poem, number 44, where Hill provides a comically shuffling commentary on the word “Capercailzie”; that is the word that Hill had settled on the first of his six variations of Montale’s “Il Gallo Cedrone” (the poems are numbered 43 (a) to 43 (f)).

Excusing himself to Arsenio/Montale, Hill compares himself to Malvolio (Malvolio doesn’t use these words, but he does chide those revelers up all night in the house of the Countess Olivia), as “late sprung, as privy-mad | As I have been.”  With the Malvolio comparison, we might think of the cruel joke that is played by Feste…

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