Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why W. H. Auden?



Aiden Hatley: "MAD poster"

With Massey's own
Jack Ross
as the guest speaker
Wednesday 6th August, 1-2 pm
SC4 Massey Albany main campus


Next week I'm supposed to be leading a discussion with a group of students on this rather uncomfortably weighty topic. I find that what thoughts I do have on the subject all seem to have been expressed already - rather better - by W. H. Auden, possibly my favourite English-language poet of all time (invidious though it would be to have to make such a choice).

There is, for a start, his early poem "Missing" [From scars where kestrels hover] (1929), about those "Fighters for no-one's sake / Who died beyond the border":
Heroes are buried who
Did not believe in death,
And bravery is now
Not in the dying breath
But resisting the temptations
To skyline operations.
The poem concludes with the magnificent lines:
"Leave for Cape Wrath to-night,"
And the host after waiting
Must quench the lamps and pass
Alive into the house.
That image of the "host" passing "alive into the house" is very much Auden's idea of the thirties hero: someone who can resist all the "temptations" to the prestige of "skyline operations" but instead be content to remain alive as a witness.

It's a vision of the artist as ordinary citizen ("The poet is Mr. Everyman. He goes to work every day on the tram," as he told the young Stephen Spender at much the same time (as recorded in the latter's 1953 autobiography World Within World).

It recalls Milton's sonnet "On His Blindness" - "They also serve who only stand and wait" - but goes beyond that to reject the whole idea of the "test": the supreme ordeal (like the trenches of 1914-18, missed by a whisker by his whole generation) which proves you to be a man.



Cecil Beaton: W. H. Auden (1930)


But can the artist go beyond this role of witness and observer? Auden's poem "Spain 1937" would seem to imply as much:
The stars are dead. The animals will not look.
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.
Here what is stressed is the need for action:
"What's your proposal? To build the just city? I will.
I agree. Or is it the suicide pact, the romantic
Death? Very well, I accept, for
I am your choice, your decision. Yes, I am Spain."

Many have heard it on remote peninsulas,
On sleepy plains, in the aberrant fishermen's islands
Or the corrupt heart of the city.
Have heard and migrated like gulls or the seeds of a flower.

They clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch
Through the unjust lands, through the night, through the alpine tunnel;
They floated over the oceans;
They walked the passes. All presented their lives.
Spain is now symbolic of the choice, an invitation to the young of international brigades, who "clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch / Through the unjust lands."

Auden subsequently chose to repudiate this poem. He said of it, in fact, in the preface to Collected Shorter Poems (1966), of the lines "History to the defeated / May say alas but cannot help nor pardon", that "to say this is to equate goodness with success":
It would have been bad enough if I had ever held this wicked doctrine, but that I should have stated it simply because it sounded to me rhetorically effective is quite inexcusable.
I don't know if he quite understood his own poem, though - or perhaps he feigned to misunderstand it in order to make a point. As I read it, at any rate, the poem is simply stating a fact about history: "Acts of injustice done / Between the rising and the setting sun / In history lie like bones, each one", as he remarked on another occasion. It isn't arguing that it is necessary to win in order to be right, but simply that those who die defeated (as the Spanish loyalists did, so many of them) cannot be helped by subsequent apologists or revisionists.

I can see that this is indeed an unpalatable "doctrine" for the later, Christian, Auden, but for the earlier Leftist, to whom History was itself a kind of deity, it added a necessary dose of cold reason.

This period culminates in Auden's "September 1, 1939," another of the poems excluded - much to his admirers' surprise - from Collected Shorter Poems:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
As he said much later, "All the attitudes I struck in the 1930s didn't save a single Jew." That, presumably, is one of the "clever hopes" expiring with the coming of war - along, perhaps, with the rest of the rabble-rousing rhetoric of "Spain 1937"?

The poem goes on with a kind of inexorable, nursery rhyme logic, to remind us that:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Because, in the final analysis:
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
The poem ends with an impassioned cri de coeur:
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
It's that last line that caused all the trouble. It was much praised and much quoted at the time, as it seemed to sum up the whole business - why we had to keep going, keep struggling, keep trying to "love one another." Auden complained later (somewhat pedantically, one might say) that we would die whether we loved one another or not, and he therefore revised the line to read "We must love one another and die" in subsequent collections. Even this was not enough, though, so later still the whole poem was excised.

I suppose he had a point. It is a nice, resonant line, but it doesn't really make sense when you think about it. It seems a shame to scrap the whole poem for that, though. There's an earlier stanza which runs through my head every time I think about the "compassion fatigue" so endemic to our times:
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
"Lost in a haunted wood / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good" - that's us all right.

I'll conclude with some lines from another one of those magisterial poems from the end of the 1930s, elegies for a dying age, poems that speak to us now with an ever more urgent voice - "In Memory of W. B. Yeats":
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
It's interesting how often this poem is - not so much misquoted, as misunderstood. People recall that half-line "poetry makes nothing happen," and see that as an expression of quietism or defeatism in the face of the (so-called) "real world" of executives and their ilk. But if you read on, that's not at all the end of the matter. On the contrary, the "poetry" that Auden imagines so triumphantly in this poem "survives, / A way of happening, a mouth." Poetry may make nothing happen, but that's because it is, in itself, a way of happening - in the valley of its making, those "Raw towns that we believe and die in," it has its own healing power to offer.

The poem's splendidly resonant conclusion therefore expands on these earlier lines, rather than contradicting them:
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
Auden won't let us get away with the excuse that poetry is impotent to affect our lives: "With your unconstraining voice / Still persuade us to rejoice" is the task of every poet, in his view.

It's not that he's naive about the difficulty of the task: "In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise" was written by one who foresaw the perils of consumerist vacuity and the "airtight cages" of poverty which could be established so easily alongside the palatial dwellings of those of us who call ourselves "free."



W. H. Auden (Christmas, 2011)


Did Auden ever resolve these balances? No, of course not. But the various positions he occupied at different times are well worth reconsidering now, when we face a world which more and more resembles that of the 1930s. I think he knew we would, and that's why he outlined the task of poetry (and art in general) with such precision and care:
I, decent with the seasons, move
Different or with a different love
as he said in "The Letter," the first poem preserved in his final collected edition. "Let your last thinks be thanks," says one of the last.



W. H. Auden: Spain (1937)

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)


    Poetry:

  1. Auden, W. H. Poems. 1930. London: Faber, 1948.

  2. Auden, W. H. The Orators: An English Study. 1932. London: Faber, 1966.

  3. Auden, W. H. Look, Stranger! 1936. London: Faber, 1946.

  4. Auden, W. H. Look, Stranger! 1936. London: Faber, 2001.

  5. Auden, W. H. Another Time. London: Faber, 1940.

  6. Auden, W. H. Some Poems. 1940. London: Faber, 1941.

  7. Auden, W. H. New Year Letter. 1941. London: Faber, 1965.

  8. Auden, W. H. For the Time Being. 1945. London: Faber, 1953.

  9. Auden, W. H. The Collected Poetry. New York: Random House, 1945.

  10. Auden, W. H. The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue. 1948. London: Faber, 1956.

  11. Auden, W. H. Collected Shorter Poems, 1930-1944. 1950. London: Faber, 1959.

  12. Auden, W. H. Nones. 1952. London: Faber, 1953.

  13. Auden, W. H. The Shield of Achilles. London: Faber, 1955.

  14. Auden, W. H. A Selection by the Author. 1958. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.

  15. Auden, W. H. Homage to Clio. London: Faber, 1960.

  16. Auden, W. H. About the House. London: Faber, 1966.

  17. Auden, W. H. Collected Shorter Poems: 1927-1957. 1966. London: Faber, 1975.

  18. Auden, W. H. Collected Longer Poems. 1968. London: Faber, 1977.

  19. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems. 1968. London: Faber, 1972.

  20. Auden, W. H. City without Walls and Other Poems. 1969. London: Faber, 1970.

  21. Auden, W. H. Academic Graffiti. Illustrated by Fillipo Sanjust. London: Faber, 1971.

  22. Auden, W. H. Epistle to a Godson & Other Poems. 1972. London: Faber, 1973.

  23. Auden, W. H. Thank You, Fog: Last Poems. London: Faber, 1974.

  24. Auden, W. H. Collected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1976.

  25. Auden, W. H. Collected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1976. London: Faber, 1991.

  26. Auden, W. H. Collected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1976. Rev. ed. 1991. London: Faber, 1994.

  27. Auden, W. H. The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927-1939. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1977. London: Faber, 1986.

  28. Auden, W. H. The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927-1939. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1977.

  29. [McDiarmid, Lucy S. “W. H. Auden’s ‘In the Year of My Youth …’” Review of English Studies, 29 (115) (1978): 267-312.]

  30. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1979.

  31. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1979. London: Faber, 1982.

  32. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems: Expanded Edition. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1979. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

  33. Auden, W. H. The Platonic Blow and My Epitaph. Washington, D.C.: Orchises Press, 1985.

  34. Auden, W. H. Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928. Ed. Katherine Bucknell. London: Faber, 1994.

  35. Auden, W. H. Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928. Expanded Paperback Edition. Ed. Katherine Bucknell. 1994. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003.

  36. Auden, W. H. As I Walked Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse. Ed. Edward Mendelson. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

  37. Plays:

  38. Auden, W. H. The Dance of Death. 1933. London: Faber, 1941.

  39. Auden, W. H. & Christopher Isherwood. The Dog Beneath the Skin, or Where is Francis? 1935. London: Faber, 1968.

  40. Auden, W. H. & Christopher Isherwood. The Ascent of F6 & On the Frontier. 1958. London: Faber, 1972.

  41. Auden, W. H. Paul Bunyan: The Libretto of the Operetta by Benjamin Britten. 1976. Essay by Donald Mitchell. London: Faber, 1988.

  42. Auden, W. H., & Christopher Isherwood. Plays and Other Dramatic Writings: 1928-1938. Ed. Edward Mendelson. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. London: Faber, 1988.

  43. Auden, W. H., & Chester Kallman. Libretti and Other Dramatic Writings: 1939-1973. Ed. Edward Mendelson. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1993.

  44. Prose:

  45. Auden, W. H., & Louis MacNeice. Letters from Iceland. London: Faber, 1937.

  46. Auden, W. H. & Christopher Isherwood. Journey to a War. 1939. Rev. ed. 1973. London: Faber, 1986.

  47. Auden, W. H. The Enchaféd Flood, or The Romantic Iconography of the Sea. London: Faber, 1951.

  48. Auden, W. H. The Enchaféd Flood, or The Romantic Iconography of the Sea. 1951. London: Faber, 1985.

  49. Auden, W. H. The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays. 1963. London: Faber, 1964.

  50. Auden, W. H. The Dyer’s Hand & Other Essays. 1963. London: Faber, 1975.

  51. Auden, W. H. Secondary Worlds: The T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, Delivered at Eliot College in the University of Kent at Canterbury, October, 1967. London: Faber, 1968.

  52. Auden, W. H. Secondary Worlds: The T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures. 1968. London: Faber, 1984.

  53. Auden, W. H. Forewords and Afterwords. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1973.

  54. Auden, W. H. Forewords & Afterwords. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1973. London: Faber, 1979.

  55. Auden, W. H. Prose and Travel Books in Verse and Prose. Volume 1: 1926-1938. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1996.

  56. Auden, W. H. Prose. Volume 2: 1939-1948. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002.

  57. Auden, W. H. Prose. Volume 3: 1949-1955. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008.

  58. Auden, W. H. Prose. Volume 4: 1956-1962. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010.

  59. Edited & Translated:

  60. Auden, W. H. & John Garrett, ed. The Poet’s Tongue: An Anthology. 1935. London: Bell, 1952.

  61. Auden, W. H., ed. The Oxford Book of Light Verse. 1938. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

  62. Auden, W. H. & Norman Holmes Pearson, ed. The Portable Romantic Poets. 1950. New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1978.

  63. Auden, W. H. & Norman Holmes Pearson, ed. Poets of the English Language. 5 vols. 1952. London: Heron Books, n.d.

  64. Auden, W. H., Chester Kallman & Noah Greenberg, ed. An Elizabethan Song Book: Lute Songs, Madrigals and Rounds. 1957. London: Faber, 1972.

  65. Auden, W. H., ed. The Faber Book of Modern American Verse. London: Faber, 1961.

  66. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Italian Journey: 1786-1788. Trans. W. H. Auden & Elizabeth Mayer. London: Wm Collins, Sons and Co., Ltd., 1962.

  67. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Italian Journey. Trans. W. H. Auden & Elizabeth Mayer. 1962. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.

  68. Auden, W. H., ed. A Choice of de la Mare’s Verse. London: Faber, 1963.

  69. Auden, W. H. & Louis Kronenberger, ed. The Faber Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection. 1964. London: Faber, 1965.

  70. Auden, W. H. & Louis Kronenberger, ed. The Faber Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection. 1964. London: Faber, 1974.

  71. Hammarskjöld, Dag. Markings. 1963. Trans. W. H. Auden & Leif Sjöberg. 1964. London: Faber, 1975.

  72. Auden, W. H., ed. Nineteenth-Century Minor Poets. Notes by George R. Creeger. London: Faber, 1967.

  73. Auden, W. H. & Paul B. Taylor, trans. The Elder Edda: a Selection. Introduction by Peter H. Salus. 1969. London: Faber, 1973.

  74. Auden, W. H. A Certain World: A Commonplace Book. 1970. London: Faber, 1971.

  75. Auden, W. H., ed. A Choice of Dryden’s Verse. London: Faber, 1973.

  76. Auden, W. H., ed. George Herbert. Poet to Poet. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

  77. Lagerkvist, Pär. Evening Land / Aftonland: bi-lingual edition. 1953. Trans. W. H. Auden & Leif Sjöberg. 1975. London: Souvenir Press, 1977.

  78. Auden, W. H. & Paul B. Taylor, trans. Norse Poems. 1981. London: Faber, 1983.

  79. Secondary:

  80. Ansen, Alan. The Table Talk of W. H. Auden. Ed. Nicholas Jenkins. 1990. London: Faber, 1991.

  81. Auden, W. H. ‘The Map of all My Youth:’ Early Works, Friends & Influences. Auden Studies 1. Ed. Katherine Bucknell & Nicholas Jenkins. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.

  82. Auden, W. H. ‘The Language of Learning and the Language of Love:’ Uncollected Writings, New Interpretations. Auden Studies 2. Ed. Katherine Bucknell & Nicholas Jenkins. London: Oxford, 1994.

  83. Carpenter, Humphrey. W. H. Auden: A Biography. 1981. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1983.

  84. Everett, Barbara. Auden. 1964. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1969.

  85. Farnan, Dorothy J. Auden in Love. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

  86. Haffenden, John, ed. W. H. Auden: The Critical Heritage. The Critical Heritage Series. Ed. B. C. Southam. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

  87. I Believe: Nineteen Personal Philosophies. By W. H. Auden, Pearl Buck, Albert Einstein, Havelock Ellis, E. M. Forster, J. B. S. Haldane, Julian Huxley, Harold J. Laski, Lin Yutang, Thomas Mann, Jacques Maritain, Jules Romains, Bertrand Russell, John Strachey, James Thurber, H. W. Van loon, Beatrice Webb, H. G. Wells & Rebecca West. 1940. London: Unwin Books, 1962.

  88. Mendelson, Edward. Early Auden. 1981. London: Faber, 1999.

  89. Mendelson, Edward. Later Auden. 1999. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

  90. Mortimer, Raymond, ed. The Seven Deadly Sins. By Angus Wilson, Edith Sitwell, Cyril Connolly, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Sykes & W. H. Auden. London: Sunday Times Publications, Inc. 1962.

  91. Osborne, Charles. W. H. Auden: The Life of a Poet. 1979. London: Papermac, 1982.

  92. Rowse, A. L. The Poet Auden: A Personal Memoir. London: Methuen, 1987.

  93. Smith, Stan. W. H. Auden. Rereading Literature. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.

  94. Spears, Monroe, K. ed. Auden: A Collection of Critical Essays. Twentieth Century Views. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964.

  95. Spender, Stephen, ed. W. H. Auden: A Tribute. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1975.






W. H. Auden: Collected Shorter Poems (1966)


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Phantom Billstickers



Phantom Billstickers: Poetry on Posters Programme (2014)


Sorry for the long delays between posts on this site. I guess it's not much of an excuse, but I have been rather busy setting up a Poetry NZ blog for "views, reviews, interviews, and other news" about the magazine.

In the meantime, though, I did get quite a kick from seeing my very first poetry poster, from the Phantom Billstickers, "New Zealand's largest and finest street poster and street media company."

The plan is that they're going to produce a poster for each of the readers at "Poetry Central," the Auckland Central Library celebration of Poetry Day (which falls on Friday 22nd August - 5.30 for 6 pm - this year), and plaster them up all around the event. The above is my contribution to the festivities.

Here's the list of readers:
  1. Michele Leggott
  2. Makyla Curtis
  3. Murray Edmond
  4. Ya-Wen Ho
  5. Selina Tusitala Marsh
  6. Alice Miller
  7. John Newton
  8. Jack Ross
  9. Robert Sullivan


Monday, May 19, 2014

Why Robert Graves?



Eric Kennington: Robert Graves (1929)


I suppose that the upcoming anniversary of the outbreak of war in August, 1914 has got me thinking again about the literature of the First World War. Having recently read Harry Rickett's excellent book Strange Meetings: The Lives of the Poets of the Great War (2010), I realised just how little I knew about so many of the writers he mentions. Some, admittedly, sound more interesting as people than poets: Robert Nicholls, for instance. It did get me daydreaming of a systematic re-reading of some of my favourites, though.

Probably first and foremost among these is Robert Graves. Just last year I managed to acquire the missing volumes of his nephew Richard Perceval Graves' rather soupy (but nevertheless indispensable) biographical trilogy about his uncle. I'd read them before, but they did remind just how long and complex - and strange - a time "old Gravy" (to quote Siegfried Sassoon's nickname for him) had of it: all those books, all those projects, all that basking in the sun in the Balearic Islands (or, rather, sitting inside reading and typing in Deyà, Majorca).

In fact it was rereading Sassoon's own (lightly fictionalised) autobiographical trilogy, Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston's Progress that got me going again on Graves (whom he calls, in context, "David Cromlech"). They were very different people, and their friendship did not long survive the war - though it was really the advent of Laura Riding, Graves's principal model for the "White Goddess" that clinched it. That, and some rather tactless demands for money on Graves's part ("Why keep a Jewish friend unless you bleed him?" as Sassoon rather chillingly remarked in a verse letter to RG).



George Charles Bereford: Siegfried Sassoon (1915)


Rather than personalities, then, I thought it might be best to concentrate on Graves's undoubted successes, his unequivocal masterpieces, if you like. In my opinion there are (at least) five of them:
  1. Memoir: Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography (1929)
    • Revised edition (1957)
  2. The concensus of opinion now seems to be that the best version of this "early autobiography" to read is the 1929 one, published shortly before Graves's departure for Majorca with his new muse, Laura Riding. The 1957 revision, which is the one I first read myself (and which is most readily available) tends to soften the abrupt and eccentric typography and sentence structures of the original text, althrough it does expand on certain details (notably Graves's relationship with T. E. Lawrence). The awkward truth is that neither version is entirely satisfactory on its own: you really have to read both to appreciate the full force of Graves's imagination in full cry.


    Robert Graves: Good-bye to All That (1929)


  3. Fiction: I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius (1934)
    • Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina (1934)
  4. Ever since this book was dramatised by the BBC in the 1970s, it has needed little introduction (there was an earlier attempt to film it in the 1930s, with Charles Laughton as claudius, but that ended up on the cutting room floor, unfortunately). It remains by far the most convincing and entertaining revisionist history of the early Caesars, despite all the myriad attempts to supplant it since. It's also the most immediately accessible and readable of Graves's historical novels, despite the fascinating material included in many of the others.


    Robert Graves: I, Claudius (1934)


  5. Speculative Non-fiction: The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948)
    • Amended and Enlarged Edition (1961)
  6. It's hard to describe this book accurately without making it sound like the work of a raving lunatic. Graves's speculations take him from the stone age to late antiquity, and include "solutions" to any number of unsolveable riddles and conundrums. It has to be experienced to be believed, but there's no doubt that no-one has ever written a more explosive book on the true nature of the poetic imagination.


    Robert Graves: The White Goddess (1948)



  7. Translation: The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass (1950)
  8. It may seem a little surprising to include a mere translation here, but I do feel that this one stands out from Graves's many solid achievements in this genre. There's something about his deadpan delivery which enables Apuleius' masterpiece to shine out, unimpeded by the clumsy literalism which so many of his other modern translators have clung to. It stays in print for a good reason: because people enjoy it more than any of the rival versions.


    Robert Graves, trans.: The Golden Ass (1950)



  9. Classical Scholarship: The Greek Myths (1955)
    • Revised edition (1960)
  10. The successive editions of this work incorporated more and more of Graves's increasingly out-there conjectures about the ancient Greeks (the contention that "ambrosia" was magic mushrooms, for instance), but for sheer concision and completeness, it's hard to fault this work. It offers multiple versions of most of the stories, together with clear source notes and - admittedly speculative - explanations of some of their stranger features. In other words, it emphasises the dynamic and fluid nature of myth, rather than clinging to a single interpretative paradigm. That's one reason it's still of use 60 years after its first publication.


    Robert Graves: The Greek Myths (1955)


Some would add to this list his bizarre series of speculations about Christianity, culminating in the massive Nazarene Gospel Restored (1954) - and including along the way such eccentric works as My Head! My Head! Being the History of Elisha and the Shulamite Woman; with the History of Moses as Elisha related it, and her Questions put to him (1925), King Jesus (1946), Adam’s Rib and Other Anomalous Elements in the Hebrew Creation Myth: A New View (1955), Jesus in Rome (1957) and Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (1964).

For me, that's a step too far. But I certainly acknowledge that this was - first to last - one of the subjects which most consistently interested Graves, from the very first poem in his Collected Poems, "In the Wilderness," about Jesus's meeting with the "guileless young scapegoat," to his later works of Biblical reconstruction, many of them written in collaboration with Talmudic scholar Joshua Podro.



Robert Graves & Joshua Podro: The Nazarene Gospel Restored (1954)


But why no poetry? Graves was, after all, a poet first and foremost. I have to say that my enthusiasm for his poetry has waned over the years, though I still like a lot of the pieces included in his own successively winnowed-down volumes of Collected Poems, culminating in the 1975 volume which was the last he personally oversaw.

This has now been supplanted by the three-volume Carcanet edition of his Complete Poems (also available as a single volume, without the apparatus and textual variants). I suppose there would be an argument for including that, too, among the "indispensible" works of Graves. There's a lot there to take in, though, and certainly a lot that he personally repudiated along the way.



Robert Graves: The Complete Poems (2000)


As a supplement to my usual habit of listing all the books which I, personally, own by Robert Graves (and there are many), I thought it might be best to begin by discussing Manchester poetry publisher Carcanet's fifteen-year Robert Graves project.

Beginning with the three volumes of Complete Poems mentioned above, they've reprinted, in handsome, well-edited new editions, the following texts - often in new, definitive versions. I've put in bold the ones that I myself own - or have on order at present:



Robert Graves: Selected Poems, ed. Patrick Quinn (1995)


  1. Selected Poems, ed. Patrick Quinn (1995)

  2. Collected Writings on Poetry, ed. Paul O'Prey (1995)

  3. Complete Short Stories, ed. Lucia Graves (1995)

  4. Complete Poems, Volume I, ed. Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward (1995)

  5. Complete Poems, Volume II, ed. Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward (1997)

  6. The White Goddess, ed. Grevel Lindop (1997)

  7. I, Claudius & Claudius the God, ed. Patrick Quinn (1998)

  8. The Sergeant Lamb Novels, ed. Patrick Quinn (1999)

  9. Complete Poems, Volume III, ed. Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward (1999)

  10. Some Speculations on Literature, History and Religion, ed. Patrick Quinn (2000)

  11. Complete Poems in One Volume, ed. Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward (1999)

  12. Homer's Daughter & The Anger of Achilles, ed. Neil Powell (2001)

  13. Greek Myths, ed. Patrick Quinn (2001)

  14. [with Laura Riding] Essays From 'Epilogue' 1935-1937, ed. Mark Jacobs (2001)

  15. [with Laura Riding] A Survey of Modernist Poetry & A Pamphlet Against Anthologies, ed. Patrick McGuinness and Charles Mundye (2002)

  16. The Story of Marie Powell, Wife to Mr Milton & The Islands of Unwisdom, ed. Simon Brittan (2003)

  17. Antigua, Penny, Puce & They Hanged my Saintly Billy, ed. Ian McCormick (2003)

  18. The Golden Fleece & Seven Days in New Crete, ed. Patrick Quinn (2004)

  19. Count Belisarius & Lawrence and the Arabs, ed. Scott Ashley (2004)

  20. [with Raphael Patai] The Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, ed. Robert A. Davis (2005)

  21. King Jesus & My Head! My Head!, ed. Robert A. Davis (2006)

  22. {with Alan Hodge] The Long Weekend & The Reader over Your Shoulder (2006)

  23. Goodbye to All That and Other Great War Writings, ed. Steven Trout (2007)

  24. Translating Rome: Apuleius' The Golden Ass; Lucan's Pharsalia; Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, ed. Robert Cummings (2010)

  25. [with Joshua Podro] The Nazarene Gospel Restored, ed. John Presley (2010)




Robert Graves & Joshua Podro: The Nazarene Gospel Restored (1954 / 2010)


It's a terrfiyingly ambitious project. They've republished all 14 of his historical novels; all his short stories; all of his poetry; a substantial selection of his essays, works of non-fiction and translations; as well as the most substantive of his collaborations with Laura Riding.

I'd really like to own the entire set, but one must be sensible - and, after all, I have most of the others in their original editions. The only serious deficiency in my own collection is The Nazarene Gospel Restored. The Carcanet edition of this (with significant revisions and additions) seems to have gone out of print soon after it was published. They do list it as "reprinting" on their website, though, so I have hopes of adding that to my collection soon, too.



Mati Klarwein: Robert Graves (1957)

Robert Ranke Graves
(1895-1985)


    Poetry:

  1. Graves, Robert. Over the Brazier. 1916. Poetry Reprint Series, 1. London: St. James Press / New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975.

  2. Graves, Robert. Poems 1926 to 1930. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1931.

  3. Graves, Robert. Collected Poems 1965. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1965.

  4. Graves, Robert. Poems 1968-1970. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1970.

  5. Graves, Robert. Poems: Abridged for Dolls and Princes. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1971.

  6. Graves, Robert. Collected Poems 1975. London: Cassell, 1975.

  7. Graves, Robert. Complete Poems, Volume 1. Ed. Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward. Manchester & Paris: Carcanet & Alyscamp Press, 1995.

  8. Graves, Robert. Complete Poems, Volume 2. Ed. Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward. Manchester: Carcanet Press Limited, 1997.

  9. Graves, Robert. The Complete Poems in One Volume. Ed. Beryl Graves & Dunstan Ward. 2000. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2003.
  10. I have the two remaining volumes of Complete Poems on order, but haven't received them yet. Volume I is certainly impressively scholarly (if a little overwhelming), though.


    Fiction:

  11. [Graves, Robert. My Head! My Head! Being the History of Elisha and the Shulamite Woman; with the History of Moses as Elisha related it, and her Questions put to him. London: Martin Secker, 1925.]

  12. Graves, Robert. I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius. 1934. London: Arthur Barker Limited, 1936.

  13. Graves, Robert. Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina. 1934. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1947.

  14. Graves, Robert. ‘Antigua, Penny, Puce’. 1936. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.

  15. Graves, Robert. Count Belisarius. 1938. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1954.

  16. Graves, Robert. Sergeant Lamb’s America: A Novel. 1940. Vintage Books. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. / Random House, Inc., 1962.

  17. Graves, Robert. Proceed, Sergeant Lamb. 1941. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1946.

  18. Graves, Robert. Wife to Mr Milton: The Story of Marie Powell. 1943. Chicago: Academy Chicago Limited, , 1979.

  19. Graves, Robert. The Golden Fleece. 1944. Pocket Library. London: Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1951.

  20. Graves, Robert. The Golden Fleece. 1944. London: Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd., 1983.

  21. Graves, Robert. King Jesus. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1946.

  22. Graves, Robert. King Jesus. 1946. London: Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1983.

  23. Graves, Robert. Seven Days in New Crete: A Novel. London: Cassell & Company Limited, 1949.

  24. Graves, Robert. Seven Days in New Crete. 1949. Introduction by Martin Seymour-Smith. Twentieth-Century Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

  25. Graves, Robert. The Isles of Unwisdom. London: Readers Union / Cassell & Company Ltd., 1952.

  26. Graves, Robert. Homer's Daughter. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1955.

  27. Graves, Robert. They Hanged My Saintly Billy. 1957. A Grey Arrow. London: Arrow Books Limited, 1962.

  28. Graves, Robert. ‘Antigua, Penny, Puce’ and They Hanged My Saintly Billy. 1936 & 1957. Ed. Ian McCormick. Robert Graves Programme. Ed. Patrick J. M. Quinn. Manchester: Carcanet Press Limited, 2003.

  29. Graves, Robert. The Big Green Book. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. 1962. A Young Puffin. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.

  30. Graves, Robert. The Siege and Fall of Troy: Retold for Young People. Illustrated by C. Walter Hodges. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1962.

  31. Graves, Robert. Collected Short Stories. 1964. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.

  32. Graves, Robert. Complete Short Stories. Ed. Lucia Graves. 1995. London: Penguin, 2008.
  33. I have the Complete Stories on order, but haven't received it yet. I think there are a few more children's books, and an early novel written in collaboration with Laura Riding - No Decency Left (1932), not to mention his "re-written" version of Dickens, The Real David Copperfield (1933), to collect, but otherwise I think that's all his published writing in this form.



    Non-Fiction:

  34. Graves, Robert. English and Scottish Ballads. 1927. Heinemann Educational Books Ltd. 1957. London: Heinemann, 1969.

  35. Graves, Robert. Lars Porsena, Or The Future of Swearing and Improper Language. 1927. London: Martin Brian & O'Keeffe Ltd., 1972.

  36. Graves, Robert. Lawrence and the Arabs. Illustrations ed. Eric Kennington. Maps by Herry Perry. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1927.

  37. Graves, Robert. Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography. 1929. London: Jonathan Cape, 1929.

  38. Graves, Robert. Good-bye to All That. 1929. Rev. ed. 1957. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

  39. Graves, Robert, & Alan Hodge. The Long Weekend: a Social History of Great Britain, 1918-1939. 1940. London: Readers’ Union Limited, 1941.

  40. Graves, Robert, & Alan Hodge. The Reader Over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1943.

  41. Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. 1948. Amended and Enlarged Edition. 1961. London: Faber, 1977.

  42. Graves, Robert. The Common Asphodel: Essays on Poets and Poetry, 1922-1949. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1949.

  43. Graves, Robert. Occupation: Writer. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1951.

  44. Graves, Robert. Adam’s Rib and Other Anomalous Elements in the Hebrew Creation Myth: A New View. With Wood Engravings by James Metcalf. 1955. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1958.

  45. Graves, Robert. The Crowning Privilege: Collected Essays on Poetry. 1955. A Pelican Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959.

  46. Graves, Robert. Greek Myths. 1955. Rev. ed. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1958.

  47. Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. 2 vols. 1955. Rev. ed. 1958. Rev. ed. 1960. Pelican Books. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.

  48. Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. 2 vols. 1955. Rev. ed. 1958. Rev. ed. 1960. Introduction by Kenneth McLeish. Illustrations by Grahame Baker. 1996. London: The Folio Society, 2000.

  49. Graves, Robert. Steps: Stories; Talks; Essays; Poems; Studies in History. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1958.

  50. Graves, Robert, & Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis. 1964. An Arena book. London: Arrow Books Limited, 1989.

  51. Graves, Robert. The Crane Bag and Other Disputed Subjects. 1969. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1970.

  52. Graves, Robert. Difficult Questions, Easy Answers. London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972.

  53. Graves, Robert. Complete Short Stories. Ed. Lucia Graves. 1995. London: Penguin, 2008.

  54. Graves, Robert. Collected Writings on Poetry. Ed. Paul O'Prey. Robert Graves Programme. Ed. Patrick J. M. Quinn. Manchester: Carcanet Press Limited / Paris: Alyscamps Press, 1995.

  55. Graves, Robert. Some Speculations on Literature, History and Religion. Ed. Patrick Quinn. Robert Graves Programme. Ed. Patrick J. M. Quinn. Manchester: Carcanet Press Limited, 2000.

  56. Graves, Robert, & Laura Riding. Essays From 'Epilogue' 1935-1937. Ed. Mark Jacobs. Manchester: Carcanet Press Limited, 2001.
  57. This is the hardest genre of Graves-iana to collect - he wrote so many books of essays and miscellaneous non-fiction, sometimes with different titles (and even different contents) for the UK and US editions. As you can see, I have been fairly assiduous, but there are still many gaps in my holdings.



    Translations:

  58. Apuleius, Lucius. The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass. Trans. Robert Graves. Penguin Classics. 1950. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950.

  59. Apuleius, Lucius. The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass. Trans. Robert Graves. 1950. Rev. Michael Grant. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

  60. Alarcón, Pedro Antonio de. The Infant with the Globe. Trans. Robert Graves. Trianon Press Limited. London: Faber, 1955.

  61. Galvan, Manuel de Jesus. The Cross and the Sword. 1882. Trans. Robert Graves. Foreword by Max Henríquez Ureña. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1956.

  62. Sand, George. Winter in Majorca. 1855. Trans. Robert Graves. With José Quadrado's Refutation of George Sand. Mallorca: Valldemosa Edition, 1956.

  63. Lucan. Pharsalia: Dramatic Incidents of the Civil Wars. Trans. Robert Graves. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1956.

  64. Suetonius Tranquillus, Gaius. The Twelve Caesars. Trans. Robert Graves. 1957. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962.

  65. Suetonius Tranquillus, Gaius. The Twelve Caesars: An Illustrated Edition. Trans. Robert Graves. 1957. Rev. Michael Grant. Ed. Sabine McCormack. 1979. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

  66. Graves, Robert, trans. The Anger of Achilles: Homer’s Iliad. London: Cassell, 1960.

  67. Graves, Robert, & Omar Ali-Shah, trans. The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam: A New Translation with Critical Commentaries. 1967. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.

  68. Graves, Robert. The Song of Songs: Text and Commentary. Illustrated by Hans Erni. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., Publisher, 1973.
  69. The only translation I'm aware of lacking is Georg Schwarz's Almost Forgotten Germany (1936). There may well be others I don't know about, though. There's a good deal of translation in some of the books on mythology.



    Edited:

  70. Richards, Frank. Old Soldiers Never Die. 1933. Uckfield, East Sussex: The Naval & Military Press, Ltd., 2009.

  71. Richards, Frank. Old Soldier Sahib. Introduction by Robert Graves. 1936. Uckfield, East Sussex: The Naval & Military Press, Ltd., 2009.
  72. Graves is alleged to have done a good deal of editing work on both of these books of war memoirs by "Frank Richards" (born Francis Philip Woodruff).



    Secondary:

  73. Seymour-Smith, Martin. Robert Graves: His Life and Work. 1982. Abacus. London: Sphere Books Ltd., 1983.

  74. Graves, Robert. In Broken Images: Selected Letters 1914-1946. Ed. Paul O'Prey. London: Hutchinson, 1982.

  75. Graves, Robert. Between Moon and Moon: Selected Letters 1946-1972. Ed. Paul O'Prey. London: Hutchinson, 1984.

  76. Graves, Richard Perceval. Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic, 1895-1926. London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Limited, 1986.

  77. Graves, Richard Perceval. Robert Graves: The Years with Laura, 1926-1940. Viking. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1990.

  78. Graves, Richard Perceval. Robert Graves and the White Goddess, 1940-1985. 1995. Phoenix Giant. London: Orion Books Ltd., 1998.

  79. Seymour, Miranda. Robert Graves: Life on the Edge. 1995. Doubleday. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd., 1996.
  80. Probably the best of these biographies is Miranda Seymour's - there's no getting over the completeness and detail of Richard Perceval Graves' rather family-centred version of his uncle's life, though. Martin Seymour-Smith's is well written but (I'm told) unreliable on details. Probably the letters give the best sense of the man himself.