(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The rule of the triple goddess, which Graves explains in his book The White Goddess, finds its most trenchant and beautiful exposition in “To Juan at the Winter Solstice.” The Juan of the poem may be the poet’s own son or it may equally well be Don Juan, the famous lover of many beautiful women and thus a worshiper of the goddess in her many aspects. To whomever it is addressed, the poem is both an invocation of the Muse of true poetry and an example of the mysteries she performs.

“There is one story and one story only,” Graves says in his opening line, and by the time the poem concludes he has shown that the various aspects of the myth of the goddess encompass all the truths that humankind can know or poets can relate. In doing this, Graves recapitulates his arguments from The White Goddess, showing how the Welsh tree poems, the myth of the Zodiac, and the recurring legends of sacrificial kings are part of this single, powerful tale, the story of the goddess.

Graves moves, methodically but poetically, through these mutations. These are the subjects, he says, for a true poet: verses about the Zodiac, which is a representation of the goddess in her heavenly, seasonal aspect; and poems about the god of the waxing year, who rules only to be sacrificed at midsummer, as “Royally then he barters life for life.” On the other hand, the poet may turn inward, but still, if he is a true poet, his personal story will reflect the universal one.

In the end, Graves maintains, the one story that can be told is that of the goddess, her beauty, and her power:

Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,Her sea-grey eyes were wildBut nothing promised that was not performed.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Canary, Robert H. Robert Graves. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Day, Douglas. Swifter than Reason: The Poetry and Criticism of Robert Graves. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963.

Graves, Richard Perceval. Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic, 1895-1926. New York: Viking Press, 1989.

Graves, Richard Perceval. Robert Graves: The Years with Laura, 1926-1940. New York: Viking Press, 1990.

Kersnowski, Frank L. The Early Poetry of Robert Graves: The Goddess Beckons. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Quinn, Patrick, ed. New Perspectives on Robert Graves. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1999.

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Robert Graves: His Life and Work. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982.

Snipes, Katherine. Robert Graves. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979.

Vickery, John B. Robert Graves and the White Goddess. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972.