Robert Graves

1895-1985 [Robert von Ranke Graves]; b. 24 July, Wimbledon, London; son of Alfred Percival and Amy (née von Ranke), gd.-nephew of Robert Perceval Graves; ed. Charterhouse, where he made poetry ‘the most important interest’ of his life and took up boxing; Poetry Society curtailed when boys began to write amorous poetry to each other; published and suppressed Over the Brazier (1916); commissioned in Royal Welsh Fusiliers; seriously wounded at Mametz Wood and reported dead, 20 July 1916; suffered neurasthenic fright; settled in Oxford after war; m. Nancy Nicholson, 23 Jan. 1918 - with whom Jenny, David (d. in WWII), Catherine and Sam;
much influenced by W. H. R. Rivers, Conflict and Dream (1923), written by the psychoanalyst treating Siegfried Sassoon for war-trauma; introduced to Laura Riding by John Crowe Ransom, Sept. 1925, arriving 1926; travelled to English teaching post in Egypt with Nancy and Riding, 2 Jan. 1926; lived in menage à trois in Majorca during the 1930s, with Geoffrey Phibbs, later demonised by Laura, participating; her quaesi-suicidal window-leap, 1929; published by Nancy Cunard at Hours Press; left Spain in with Riding in 1936, at the outbreak of Civil War; remained with Riding up to 1939 when she made her destructive impact on marriage of Schuyler and Kate Jackson, in New Hope, Pennsylvania;
settled briefly at Great Bardfield, Sussex, on return from America, living with with Beryl Pritchard, estranged wife of his friend Alan Hodge, autumn 1939, then pregnant and subsequently married, 1950; published biography of Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth (1940), and Proceed, Sergeant Lamb (1941), based on the memoir of a Dublin-born British soldier in the American War of Independence; issued Poems 1938-45 (1945); issued The White Goddess (1948); wrote war reminiscences as Goodbye to All That (1929), occasioning alienation from his father; issued hugely successful I, Claudius and Claudius the God (1934);
issued Count Belisarius (1938); gave Clark Lectures, Cambridge, 1954-55; Selected Poems (Penguin 1957); Oxford Addresses on Poetry, 1961-65; abortive films of I, Claudius, and Solomon and Sheba (musical); other writing works incl. condensed David Copperfield, and misinformed tran. of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; also Occupation, Writer (1950), prose miscellany; founded Seizen Press, 1950s; contrib. to New Yorker and Playboy in 1960s; sustained in final years by royalties from TV version of I, Claudius (1975); visited UUC [Cork], May 1975, with Beryl; d. 7 Dec. 1985; bur. in small churchyard on Deià (Majorca), at the site of a shrine once sacred to the White Goddess of Pelion; survived by Beryl [née Pritchard], his second wife (d. 27 Oct. 2003) and their children  William, Lucia, Juan, and Tomás; there is a head by Majorie Fitzgibbon in the RDS. OCEL

‘Now I begin to know at last,
These nights when I sit down to rhyme,
The form and measure of that vast
God we call Poetry, he who stoops
And leaps me through his paper hoops
A little higher every time.’

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  • Over the Brazier (London: Poetry Bookshop 1916).
  • My Head! My Head! (London: Secker & Warburg 1925).
  • Poems, 1938-1945 (London: Cassell & Co. 1946), [8], 40pp.
  • Colophon to Love Respelt (Barnet: Stellar Press [priv.] 1967) [28 poems; ltd. edn. 350 signed].
  • The Poems of Robert Graves: Selected by Himself (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1958, 5th edn. 1978), and Do. [Chosen by Himself] (NY: Doubleday 1958).
  • Mammon and the Black Goddess (NY: Doubleday 1965).
  • Collected Poems (London: Cassell 1975) [available in the Oxford Text Archive; online].
  • 5 Pens in Hand (Freeport NY: Books for Libraries 1970, rep. of 1958 Edn.).
  • The Green-Sailed Vessel: Poems (Hatfield: Stellar Press [priv.] 1971), 41pp. [ltd. edn. 536].
  • Difficult Questions, Easy Answers (London: Cassell 1972).
  • Poems, 1970-1972 (London: Cassell & Co. 1972), ix, 85pp.
  • Love poems, sel. & intro. by Sue Bradbury (London: Folio Society 1990), 63pp.
  • Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward, eds., Complete Poems, Vol. I (Manchester: Carcanet Press 1995), 431pp.
  • Patrick Quinn, ed., The Centenary Selected Poems (Man: Carcanet Press 1995), 155pp.
  • I, Claudius, from the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius ... born B.C.10 murdered and deified a.d. 54 (London: Barker 1934).
  • Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina: The troublesome reign of Tiberius Claudius Caesar, Emperor of the Romans .. as described by himself; also his murder at the hands of the notorious Agrippina, mother of the Emperor Nero, and his subsequent deification, as described by others (London: Arthur Barker 1934), 575pp., with fold. genealogical tables.
  • King Jesus: A Novel (London: Cassell 1946).
  • The Islands of Unwisdom (Garden City, NY: Doubleday [1949]), xv, 328pp.
  • I, Claudius [and] Claudius the God, ed. Richard Francis [Robert Graves Programme] (Manchester: Carcanet Press 1998), xxii, 725pp.
  • On English Poetry: Being an irregular approach to the psychology of this art form from evidence mainly subjective (London: William Heinemann 1922), viii, 149pp.
  • Lars Porsena: or, The Future of Swearing and Improper Language [To-day and To-morrow] 2nd. [rev.] edn. (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner; New York: E. P. Dutton [1927]), 94pp., 17cm.
  • Goodbye to All That (London: Jonathan Cape 1929).
  • Lawrence and the Arabs (London: Jonathan Cape 1936), ills [edited] by Eric Kennington.
  • with Alan Hodge, The Long Weekend: A Social History of Great Britain, 1918-1939 (London: Faber & Faber [1941]), 472pp., and Do. [2d edn.; [The Norton library] (NY: W.W. Norton [c1940]), 472pp.
  • The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (London: Noonday Press 1948).
  • with Laura Riding, The Common Asphodel: Collected Essays on Poetry, 1922-1949 (London: Hamish Hamilton 1949), xi, 335pp.
  • Occupation: Writer [Universal Library] (NY: Grosset & Dunlap 1950), ix, 320pp.
  • The Crowning Privilege: Collected Essays on Poetry [Essay Index Reprint] (NY: Books for Libraries Press 1955).
  • Poetic Craft and Principle: Lectures and Talks (London: Cassell 1967), viii, 195pp.
  • Dear Robert, Dear Spike”: The Graves-Milligan Correspondence, ed. Pauline Scudamore (Sutton: Stroud 1991), xlvii, 141pp., ill.
  • Paul O’Prey, ed., Collected Writings on Poetry (Manchester: Carcanet Press 1995), 561pp.
  • The Anger of Achilles: Homer’s Iliad transled by Robert Graves (London: Cassell 1960), 357pp. [Do., US 1959].

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  • Robin Skelton, ‘The Versecraft of Robert Graves’, Celtic Contraries [Chp. 10] (Syracuse UP 1990), pp.157-69 [first pub. in The Malahat Review (July 1975)].
  • George Plimpton, ed., The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work [4th Ser.] (NY: Viking 1976).
  • Patrick J. Keane, A Wild Civility: Interactions in the Poetry and Thought of Robert Graves (Missouri UP 1980), 110pp.
  • Miranda Seymour, Robert Graves: Life on the Edge (NY: Doubleday 1995), 523pp.
  • Richard Perceval Graves, Robert Graves and the White Goddess 1940-1985 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1995), 618pp.

See also Randell Jarrell, The Third Book of Criticism (NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux 1969) and Deborah Baker, In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding (NY: Grove Press 1993). See also Seán Ó Mordha, I, Graves (BBC2 Saturday, 23 Dec. 1995) [commissioned film].

Reviews incl. Denis Donoghue, review of Miranda Seymour, Robert Graves: Life on the Edge (NY: Doubleday 1995) and Richard Perceval Graves, Robert Graves and the White Goddess (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1995), in New York Review of Books, 4 April 1996, pp.27-31.

See Thomas McCarthy's memory of Graves's visit to UCC [Cork] in 1975:

When the Master-Poet said that he had been to Heaven several times that month, I thought he had taken too much drink, until he showed me his box (silver with what looked like an emerald set into the lid), a little box of hallucinogenic mushrooms that had been a gift from Carlos Castanada after a reading in New Mexico. Graves’ wife Beryl slapped him on the wrist and said ‘You mustn’t ruin that young boy with your dirty mushrooms!’ He returned his magic mushrooms to his pocket very sheepishly. What an old devil he was, what a pure, irresponsible lyricist of the mid-Century. Still, his sanity was recovered every ten years with every new version of his Collected Poems.

Later, at the not very successful seminar in the English Dept.( the poet was too tired) Graves was asked if he had any advice for budding poets. He answered ‘Poets, if you are budding come into bloom!’ One of the most amusing incidents during that visit occurred when John Montague suggested that he and the poets present, certainly Theo Dorgan, should be anointed. Theo and I bowed while Graves patted our heads, in the same manner that Graves bowed when Thomas Hardy had patted him on the head, Hardy who had bowed when Robert Browning or Coventry Patmore patted him on the head, as Browning or Patmore had bowed when Lord Tennyson had patted him on the head, just as Tennyson had bowed while Coleridge had patted him on the head; so that the patting on the head came all the way from Coleridge to us, thanks to Robert Graves. Interestingly, no female student-poet present wished to be patted on the head, it was is if all this patting of men and boys would have to come to an end in poetry. Women would touch their own heads and do their own anointing, thank you very much.

See full-text under McCarthy - as attached.

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Margaret Drabble, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature (OUP 1986), cites essays, The Crane Bag and Other Disputed Subjects (1969); also life by M. Seymour-Smith (1982).

John Montague, ed., The Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974), incls. poems of Graves.

COPAC Catalogue lists 927 copies of numerous titles and editions in British and Irish Libraries.

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The poetry canon
: ‘English poetic education should, really, begin not with The Canterbury Tales, not with the Odyssey not even with Genesis but with The Song of Amergin.' (The White Goddess 1953; cited in Paddy Bushe, ‘A resonant tradition, some Gaelic poetry of Uíbh Ráthach’, in Daniel O’Connell, Political Pioneer, ed. Maurice R. O’Connell, 1991, pp.86-97; p.87.)

To the Public: ‘Frankly, honest Public, I am not professionally concerned with you, and expect nothing from you ... That does not mean that I am altogether untouched by your kindness and sympathy, or that I dislike the money which two or three thousand of you invest in new volumes of my poems. All I mean is that these poems are not addressed directly to you in the sense that the comedian’s jokes are; though I don’t in the least mind you reading them.’ (From The Crowning Privilege, cited by Biddy Jenkinson in ‘A Letter to the Editor’, IUR, Spring/Summer 1991, p.28.)

The function of poetry: ‘What is the use or function of poetry nowadays? The function of peotry is religious invocation of the Muse, its use is the experience of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites. thjis was once a warning to man that he must keep in harmony with the family of living creatures among which he was born, by obedience to the wishes of the lady of the house it is now a reminder that he has disregarded the warning, turned the house upside down by capricious experiements in philosophy, science and industry, and brought ruin to himself and his family.’ (Foreword to The White Goddess; cited in Derek Mahon, review of Michael Longley, Poems, in The Literary Review, 1985; rep. in Journalism 1970-1995, 1996; p.98.)

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Contra florilegia: In ‘Pamphlet Against Anthologies’ (1928), the authors, Graves and Laura Riding, argued that these do not reflect poetic values so much as popular taste: ‘the greater the integrity of the private anthology, particularly when the author is a well-known poet, the more dangerous is it when put on the market, by its publication it appears to be an act of criticism instead of a mere expressing of taste’. Further, that the poet-anthologists have ‘a reputation which the publishers are anxious to help them capitalise as an offset against the comparatively poor returns their individual volumes of poetry usually bring in.’ (Cited in Germaine Greer, ‘A Biodegradable Art’, Tiumes Literary Supplement, 30 June 1995, p.7 [Women’s Studies Issue].

British Library Suppressed Safe: The first edn. of Goodbye to All That (Jonathan Cape 1929) was withdrawn by the publishers and later reissued with a expurgations of a brief passage at p.290 and a poem by Siegfried Sassoon on pp.341-43. The 3rd imp. of 1929 is normally available at pressmark 010855. df. 29. (See Catalogue of Suppressed Sage in Scissor-and-Paste online; accessed 30.04.2010.)

P. J. Kavanagh remembers: ‘What Robert Graves once describes to me as “a second helping” [referring to the immortality of the soul] Philip Toynbee, Part of a Journey, cited in PJ Kavanagh, ed., A Book of Consolations. 1992).

L. A. G Strong excluded Graves from the anthology of Contemporary Poetry which he edited with C. Day Lewis