One of my many regrets—and there comes a time in life when regret is almost inseparable from memory itself—is that I received no formal literary education, at least not after the age of sixteen. Such as I had until then received came to an abrupt halt, soon after a teacher of English gave me one of the greatest intellectual pleasures of my life. She was teaching the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, but not in a didactic way. Instead she drew from us, by the Socratic method, the meaning of words that had at first seemed to us used arbitrarily, or at least eccentrically, with whimsical neologism piled on ungrammatical solecism. I cannot now recall the actual content of what we learned, but the pleasure of its discovery remains with me much as the grin of the Cheshire cat remained after the cat itself had disappeared.

Even now, nearly half a century later, as I walk through the woods around my house in France and the sunlight...