Robert Graves Graves, Robert (Vol. 1)

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Graves, Robert (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Graves, Robert 1895–

An Anglo-Irish writer, now living in Majorca, Graves is a poet whose work is directed by the Muse and whose principal poetic theme is the impossibility of absolute love between man and woman. Graves is also a novelist, a critic, a mythographer, and a translator. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Anyone at all interested in poetry should buy Robert Graves' Poems 1938–45…, if only to get one poem, "To Juan at the Winter Solstice." It is one of the most beautiful poems of our century. Naturally, such a piece is far and away the best poem in the book; but the other poems are a pleasure to read even when they are inconsequential—their texture is so accomplished and personal, so terse, self-sufficient, and dryly or grotesquely or individually necessary, that the reader has the superstitious and wholly mistaken impression that the mediocre ones are mediocre only because Mr. Graves hasn't bothered to write anything so vulgar, modern, and alienated-from-himself as a successful poem. The technique of the poems is unusually objective and "classical"—a great deal of English and classical poetry is responsible for the way in which they are written—since metres and forms are things Mr. Graves can accept and transform as easily as he accepts and transforms the ghosts and gods and other historical beings that live on in the enchanting Hades of his novels; but what the poems say is sometimes wonderfully and sometimes rather disastrously the expression of his own peculiar being….

Mr. Graves is one of the few poets alive who can write a first-rate poem, and one of the very few who are getting better as they get older. If I were Clement Attlee I'd pension or imprison Mr. Graves to get him to write more poems: certainly either action would seem matter-of-course to Robert Graves.

Randall Jarrell, in his Poetry and the Age (© 1953 by Randall Jarrell; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Knopf-Vintage, 1953, pp. 202-03.

The humorous, mythological, casual yet cosmic poems of Robert Graves, with their highly individual use of folk elements and original handling of traditional metrical forms, show a poetic sensibility almost belligerently at variance with all the contemporary poetic schools.

David Daiches, in his The Present Age in British Literature, Indiana University Press, 1958, p. 53.

Periodically throughout his career Graves has gone through his poetic corpus, suppressed those poems which have seemed to him inferior, and drastically revised those which he has chosen to retain. Thus a poem originally published, say, in Over the Brazier (1916) might reappear, its structure and diction markedly altered, in Poems, 1914–1926, only to be dropped from the contents of Collected Poems, 1938—and then turn up again, its face once more lifted, in Collected Poems, 1955. Such thorough and ceaseless pruning has been almost invariably beneficial to the poems subjected to it…. Good as the poems in Graves's collection of 1961 are, they must not be taken as representative of anything more than the sort of poetry Graves chose to write in 1961. To see what he was like in 1916, one must read the volume that was published that year. (Introduction, xiii-xiv)

A careful reading of Graves's poems as originally published, however, will in fact show that there has been a very distinct pattern of progress in his career, and that there have been in reality four more or less sharply delineated periods into which his work may be divided.

In the first period, which runs from 1916 to 1923, we find Graves jolted out of his whimsical and banal Georgianism by the shock of the First World War…. By 1923 he has tired of such emotional intensity, and is sliding, almost imperceptibly, into the semi-detached, analytical poetry of his second major period. (Introduction, xv)

The poems of Graves's second period are marked by his determination not to become emotionally involved in his work…. The poems of this period are, in fact, less...

(The entire section is 3,718 words.)