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This article is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

on Robert Graves
Unclean and Untidy:
Notes on Graves, Myth and European War
Sean O'Brien
A lecture delivered at the 14th Robert Graves Society Conference, Palma de Mallorca, 12 July 2018

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: not for the first time, I need to tread warily where many experts are assembled. So let me say first that I’m not a scholar and not a Graves expert. I am an interested reader of Graves’s work. I have a poet’s interest in Graves’s writing, and the criticism I write – this talk included – emerges from a poet’s preoccupations. In this instance, I began thinking about a couple of famous Graves poems arising from the First World War. I found that they met up with other parts of my reading and writing on the matter of Europe, and I’ve begun – barely begun, as will become evident – to explore where these connections might lead. I make no claims to originality; I’m trying to find my way to a destination which remains uncertain. So the title is accurate: these are notes.

In the Histories Herodotus finds that there are certain things he cannot get to the bottom of – such as the names and definitions of the continents known to the ancient world. He comments:

As for Europe, nobody knows if it is surrounded by sea, or where it got its name from, or who gave it, unless we are to say that it came from Europa, the Tyrian woman, and before that was nameless like the rest. This, however, is unlikely; for Europa was an Asiatic and never visited the country which we now call ...


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