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The Early Poetry of Robert Graves

FRANK L. KERSNOWSKI
Copyright Date: 2002
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/743434
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    The Early Poetry of Robert Graves
    Book Description:

    Like many men of his generation, poet Robert Graves was indelibly marked by his experience of trench warfare in World War I. The horrific battles in which he fought and his guilt over surviving when so many perished left Graves shell-shocked and disoriented, desperately seeking a way to bridge the rupture between his conventional upbringing and the uncertainties of postwar British society.

    In this study of Graves's early poetry, Frank Kersnowski explores how his war neurosis opened a door into the unconscious for Graves and led him to reject the essential components of the Western idea of reality-reason and predictability. In particular, Kersnowski traces the emergence in Graves's early poems of a figure he later called "The White Goddess," a being at once terrifying and glorious, who sustains life and inspires poetry. Drawing on interviews with Graves's family, as well as unpublished correspondence and drafts of poems, Kersnowski argues that Graves actually experienced the White Goddess as a real being and that his life as a poet was driven by the purpose of celebrating and explaining this deity and her matriarchy.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79639-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE The Argument
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 THE LUNATIC, THE LOVER, AND THE POET
    (pp. 1-27)

    My friendship with Robert Graves was actually interrupted by meeting him. When I first wrote to him in 1969, I had gone well beyond the obligatory reading of his most recentCollected Poems(1961) andThe White Goddess, having sought out such, then, rare works asOver the Brazier, his first volume of poetry, and very recent works, such asMammon and the Black GoddessandThe Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, both of which Robert Graves signed for me. But I had not yet read the accumulating letters and manuscripts in university libraries, nor had I seen reason to be...

  6. CHAPTER 2 THE LUNATIC: War
    (pp. 28-49)

    When I went to Deya de Mallorca in 1969 to visit Robert Graves, I stayed in a small pension run by his son William. I asked William if I should telephone his father before going to see him. William laughed and said, “You’ll have to go see him because Robert doesn’t have a telephone.” Graves had been shocked by a telephone when he was in the trenches in France during World War I and still smarted from it “until some twelve years later” (gbtat 107). As is true in general, Graves understated the permanent change to his personality and life...

  7. CHAPTER 3 THE LUNATIC: After the War
    (pp. 50-78)

    Graves would return to France a last time, posted to the Second Battalion again in January of 1917. As with Siegfried Sassoon, Graves was haunted by the dead and felt guilty for being alive and, since alive, for not being in combat. Clearly unfit for service, he was returned to England after he collapsed: “The major of the R.A.M.C. recognized me and said: ‘What on earth areyoudoing out in France, young man! If I find you in my hospital again with those lungs of yours I’ll have you court-martialled’” (217).

    As was true for Sassoon and many others,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THE LOVER IN THE NURSERY
    (pp. 79-99)

    InWhipperginny, Graves observed that “much trench poetry” was written by men not “poetically inclined,” often by officers to address the conflict between their unexpressed love for the men they commanded and the also repressed fear of “the horrible death that threatened them all” (37–38). For Graves, such conflict and suppression was the same as that of boys who suddenly become aware of sex yet have scant opportunity to experience it and limited ability to express its power. Here, Graves strongly expressed the ties between the trauma of battle and of sex.

    Although World War I did not serve...

  9. CHAPTER 5 THE LOVER
    (pp. 100-129)

    Robert Graves’s loves and love life have preoccupied his biographers often to the exclusion of his poems—the reason we all have for writing about his love life. The bare bones of this fabled love life are: the twig was bent by an overbearing mother; in a single-sex public school he fell in love (a sexless love, he claimed) with a younger boy who later proved to be homosexual; in the army he remained a virgin although surrounded by license; he married a woman as naive as himself, and they had four children; then all was changed, utterly changed, by...

  10. CHAPTER 6 THE POET
    (pp. 130-158)

    Robert Graves was always a Romantic poet, shaped first by the language of Keats’s poems and then by the reality that haunted them. As is probably true for all of us, Graves first saw Keats through Victorian eyes. That good Victorian, his father, gave him the Everyman edition of Keats’s poems that he carried with him to France, the volume in which he wrote his own very sensory poems about war and the memories it aroused. At first, he wrote of the trauma of war, the insane denial of reason, and found ghosts he would have preferred to believe were...

  11. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 159-164)

    Graves and Hodge first published their social history of England between the wars in 1940, when the relationship between Graves and Riding was gone but not forgotten. Graves placed Riding and her views highly in this study: that it was important to strive for non-historical truth and reject work that was merely a popular success. Graves’s confrontation with W. B. Yeats for not including Riding inThe Oxford Book of Modern Poetrywas phrased as Graves’s opposition to “anthologies.” As he mentioned in replying to Yeats, he and Riding had made their position clear inA Pamphlet Against Anthologies. Riding’s...

  12. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 165-169)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 170-174)