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About this poet

On July 24, 1895, Robert Graves was born in Wimbledon, near London. His father, Alfred Perceval Graves, was a Gaelic scholar and minor Irish poet. His mother, Amalie von Ranke Graves, was a relation of Leopold von Ranke, one of the founding fathers of modern historical studies. One of ten children, Robert was greatly influenced by his mother's puritanical beliefs and his father's love of Celtic poetry and myth. As a young man, he was more interested in boxing and mountain climbing than studying, although poetry later sustained him through a turbulent adolescence. In 1913 Graves won a scholarship to continue his studies at St. John's College, Oxford, but in August 1914 he enlisted as a junior officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He fought in the Battle of Loos and was injured in the Somme offensive in 1916. While convalescing, he published his first collection of poetry, Over the Brazier. By 1917, though still an active serviceman, Graves had published three volumes. In 1918, he spent a year in the trenches, where he was again severely wounded.

In January 1918, at the age of twenty-two, he married eighteen-year-old Nancy Nicholson, with whom he was to have four children. Traumatized by the war, he went to Oxford with his wife and took a position at St. John's College. Graves's early volumes of poetry, like those of his contemporaries, deal with natural beauty and bucolic pleasures, and with the consequences of the First World War. Over the Brazier and Fairies and Fusiliers earned for Graves the reputation as an accomplished war poet. After meeting the American poet and theorist Laura Riding in 1926, Graves's poetry underwent a significant transformation. Douglas Day has written that the "influence of Laura Riding is quite possibly the most important single element in [Graves's] poetic career: she persuaded him to curb his digressiveness and his rambling philosophizing and to concentrate instead on terse, ironic poems written on personal themes."

In 1927, Graves and his first wife separated permanently, and in 1929 he published Goodbye to All That, an autobiography that announced his psychological accommodation with the residual horror of his war experiences. Shortly afterward, he departed to Majorca with Laura Riding. In addition to completing many books of verse while in Majorca, Graves also wrote several volumes of criticism, some in collaboration with Riding. The couple cofounded Seizin Press in 1928 and Epilogue, a semiannual magazine, in 1935. During that period, he evolved his theory of poetry as spiritually cathartic to both the poet and the reader. Although Graves claimed that he wrote novels only to earn money, it was through these that he attained status as a major writer in 1934, with the publication of the historical novel I, Claudius, and its sequel, Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina. (During the 1970's, the BBC adapted the novels into an internationally popular television series.)

At the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Graves and Riding fled Majorca, eventually settling in America. In 1939, Laura Riding left Graves for the writer Schuyler Jackson; one year later Graves began a relationship with Beryl Hodge that was to last until his death. It was in the 1940s, after his break with Riding, that Graves formulated his personal mythology of the White Goddess. Inspired by late nineteenth-century studies of matriarchal societies and goddess cults, this mythology was to pervade all of his later work.

After World War II, Graves returned to Majorca, where he lived with Hodge and continued to write. By the 1950s, Graves had won an enormous international reputation as a poet, novelist, literary scholar, and translator. In 1962, W. H. Auden went as far as to assert that Graves was England's "greatest living poet." In 1968, he received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. During his lifetime he published more than 140 books, including fifty-five collections of poetry (he reworked his Collected Poems repeatedly during his career), fifteen novels, ten translations, and forty works of nonfiction, autobiography, and literary essays. From 1961 to 1966, Graves returned to England to serve as a professor of poetry at Oxford. In the 1970s his productivity fell off; and the last decade of his life was lost in silence and senility. Robert Graves died in Majorca in 1985, at the age of ninety.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Over the Brazier (1916)
Goliath and David (1917)
Fairies and Fusiliers (1918)
Treasure Box (1920)
Country Sentiment (1920)
The Pier-Glass (1921)
Whipperginny (1923)
To Whom Else? Deyá (1931)
The Poems of Robert Graves (1958)
Man Does, Woman Is (1964)
Love Respelt (1966)
Poems About Love (1969)
Love Respelt Again (1969)
Poems: Abridged for Dolls and Princes (1971)
Poems 1970-1972 (1973)
New Collected Poems (1977)
The Complete Poems, ed. Beryl Graves and Dunstan Ward (2000)

The Shivering Beggar

Robert Graves, 1895 - 1985
Near Clapham village, where fields began,  
Saint Edward met a beggar man.  
It was Christmas morning, the church bells tolled,  
The old man trembled for the fierce cold.  
  
Saint Edward cried, "It is monstrous sin
A beggar to lie in rags so thin!  
An old gray-beard and the frost so keen:  
I shall give him my fur-lined gaberdine."  
  
He stripped off his gaberdine of scarlet  
And wrapped it round the aged varlet,  
Who clutched at the folds with a muttered curse,  
Quaking and chattering seven times worse.  
  
Said Edward, "Sir, it would seem you freeze  
Most bitter at your extremities.  
Here are gloves and shoes and stockings also,
That warm upon your way you may go."  
  
The man took stocking and shoe and glove,  
Blaspheming Christ our Saviour’s love,  
Yet seemed to find but little relief,  
Shaking and shivering like a leaf.  
  
Said the saint again, "I have no great riches,  
Yet take this tunic, take these breeches,  
My shirt and my vest, take everything,  
And give due thanks to Jesus the King."  
  
The saint stood naked upon the snow  
Long miles from where he was lodged at Bowe,  
Praying, "O God! my faith, it grows faint!  
This would try the temper of any saint.  
  
"Make clean my heart, Almighty, I pray,  
And drive these sinful thoughts away.    
Make clean my heart if it be Thy will,  
This damned old rascal’s shivering still!"  
  
He stooped, he touched the beggar man’s shoulder;  
He asked him did the frost nip colder?  
"Frost!" said the beggar, "no, stupid lad!
’Tis the palsy makes me shiver so bad."

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Robert Graves

Robert Graves

The author of numerous collections of poetry, novels, and translation, Robert Graves was viewed as an accomplished war poet and is the author of I, Claudius

by this poet

poem
Look at my knees,   
That island rising from the steamy seas!   
The candle's a tall lightship; my two hands   
Are boats and barges anchored to the sands,   
With mighty cliffs all round; 
They're full of wine and riches from far lands....   
I wonder what it feels like to be drowned?
   
I can make
poem
Walking through trees to cool my heat and pain,  
I know that David’s with me here again.  
All that is simple, happy, strong, he is.  
Caressingly I stroke  
Rough bark of the friendly oak. 
A brook goes bubbling by: the voice is his.  
Turf burns with pleasant smoke;  
I laugh at chaffinch and at primroses.
poem
Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A creeping, coloured caterpillar,
I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray,
I nibble it leaf by leaf away.

Down beneath grow dandelions,
Daisies, old-man's-looking-glasses;
Rooks flap croaking across the lane.
I eat and swallow and eat again.

Here come raindrops helter-skelter;
I