Robert Graves Part Two: Try to pin this writer down at your own risk.





“Just a war poet am I? Step outside sunshine…”


So first the good news. There’s a new Selected Poems of Robert Graves out, published by Faber and Faber. The bad news is that some reviews might not succeed in inspiring people to actually check out the book.

I don’t mean that the reviews of the poems themselves are bad. I mean that the reviews are actually badly written. Chief among them has to be this review from The Economist magazine (a journal not really noted for its insight into the arts, however hard they try. Stick to money, lads). This review is probably the worst review of anything by anyone since the A and R man at Decca records thought to himself “Those Beatles. Just haven’t got it have they?”

See how uninspired the review is for yourself here:

Where to begin. The subheading for a start: “A timely reminder of an overlooked war poet”. War poet? Robert Graves? Well yes he wrote about war, but pigeon holing him thus is like trying to claim Ted Hughes is ‘just’ a nature poet, or Byron wrote only of doomed and sorrowful young men. See my other blog post on Graves’s poetry, where I try to give a flavour of the sheer range of his poetic interests.

While I’m at it I’ll have a go at the first sentence of this review. “Robert Graves is not remembered for his poetry”.

“Not remembered?” What a complete load of bollocks. As my own post of a few weeks ago, as well as a steady stream of other posts on WordPress and other sites attest, many people know and love Robert Graves’s poetry.

And so to counter the lazy cliches of British reviewers everywhere, I’d like to end by quoting Graves’s own poem “Flying Crooked”. In it Graves compares himself to a butterfly. While they appear to flit from place to place, surely few creatures get to know their territory so well or cover so much varied ground.  In like manner, here is a writer whose career progression and range of subjects may seem random and haphazard to some, but who certainly  can never be pigeon holed into one category.


The butterfly, a cabbage white,

(His honest idiocy of flight)

Will never now, it is too late,

Master the art of flying straight,

Yes has- who knows so well as I?-

A just sense of how not to fly:

He lurches here and here by guess

And God and hope and hopelessness.

Even the aerobatic swift

Has not his flying-crooked gift.





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