in a tactile way, are central to his disposition and are included in some of his finest lines of poetry ("Shut up. Shut up. There's nobody here./If you think you hear somebody knocking/On the other side of the words, pay/No attention. It will be only/The great creature that thumps its tail/On silence on the other side."). The knock should, of course, be answered in a like way. It is, however, easier said (or knocked) than done, and perhaps calls for the assistance of the head-stroking machine which my meek tapping obliges him to recommend.
Just as knocking is another manifestation of W.S. Graham's conception of private mystery, so are his attitudes to walking and eating. To walk with him is to be given the impression of someone who is potentially directionless and will wander, or run off, alone, at a moment's notice. Similarly, I have not, so far, seen him eat. When Nessie prepares a splendid breakfast at his writing table, he seems to interrupt himself, stares disbelievingly down at the full plates, turns his chair until only his back is visible, and says to the wall: "I can't watch you. Hurry up."
His function is precisely to the unwavering point: to love and demand love. His words to Nessie are often loving phrases implicitly expecting - and getting - their explicit response. Although these phrases are in a great tradition of such statements, verbal simplicity is not necessarily the only major way his love manifests itself.
Another, hugely important, way is by song. I have mentioned his love of opera. W.S. Graham has a splendid dramatic tenor voice. His face is transformed into a rising sun or fading moon when he sings. His voice lifts and sobs like a pulse; it soars into the morning sky and can fade with the afternoon into twilight and beyond.
By chance, I enjoy singing too, and this afternoon, he declares: "I am your son, a prince. You are a king. Come, my dear, let's have a duet in the style of Mozart. Make up the words, make up the plot."
Which is what we do for ten minutes, even fifteen. My king is hectoring, moralising, invincible. His royal son is full of heart-aching remorse. When the king forgives - as all such noble specimens must try to do - the sense of relief, unity and joy which break into song are worth a thousand conversations and a million explanations.
Of course, there are more direct ways for him to make love. Mostly, it is by unadorned enquiry: "Dear my boy," he suddenly says, lightly, immediately followed by a darkening of his face and an abrupt: "What's going on inside? What are you? If you haven't got anything to tell me, you know what to do. Come outside. I'll split your head like a melon."
Sometimes, such calls are not easily answered and, I imagine, that is when W.S. Graham sensibly takes respite from the incompetence of his fellow men by turning to his work. He has just started his first imaginative writings in prose. Reading one story to a group of friends results in tears of appreciation.
And then, at 1am, Nessie in bed, but probably not asleep, listening in that small house, where all sounds count, W.S. Graham reads his latest unpublished poetry. He becomes another being, the words spring out of him and his voice becomes the inspiration which has brought them about. It is effortlessly engulfing, an unrepeatable statement of love.
And when I ask him later to read 'The Thermal Stair', one of the poems of his that I like the best, dedicated to his friend, the late Peter Lanyon, the depth of that love shows through time and time again. No wonder he can write in that poem: "Give me your hand, Peter/To steady me on the word", and, after he has finished reading it, he writes at the head of the poem for me: "I have just read this to you, and I can still be broken into pieces."
Nessie must have heard it in the room above. As she knows, as he knows and now I know, this is a man capable of love and worthy of loving; a man who has rejected eveything which would impede, impair or destroy what he himself feels and values himself to be.
I tried to pay tribute to this extraordinary man in this poem:
Silence: he knows about that;
silence of the life-cycle,
butterflies in his head
and in his body, too:
what would crawl out,
how would it fly?
Would he be able to fly
(the walls of the room close in)
would he be able to move
a hand, a finger, a word?
He has worried for years,
to the point of death.
He became silent with space;
friends knew that exactly,
to whom silence was golden
like sharp, gleaming jewels, hard as love:
from which impasse he came.
Would he see the bird rising?
Would he hear the centre of the earth?
Strangers stared ahead ecstatically,
or some were calm, burning
like the black moorland burns
before it is swept by rain.
Memory is too slight a word:
his origins bury on
downwards into my heart,
blindly coming up for a breather
and silence changed to a sound:
where the butterfly is calling
his name, calling his name
until fears fall down,
wings of silence in the air.
Listen, he then says, listen:
the butterfly is calling
my name, calling my name;
my love, my love, what shall
I be now the butterfly
is calling my name?
At that place of silent sound,
his origins are being called
being called by name.