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This article is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

‘A Calculated Act of Goddess’: on Robert Graves Grevel Lindop
The poet and mythographer Robert Graves was a great teller of tall stories; and most of the stories he told were true. There was the one, for example, about being left for dead after the Battle of the Somme in 1916: his parents received the dreaded telegram telling them he had died of wounds; after his recovery he was able to read the announcement of his own death in the Times.

Then there was the one about being bitten by a viper in the Pyrenees – the Pyrenean viper being, according to Graves, ‘eight times more lethal than the English’. ‘After the first pain and vomiting,’ he recalled, ‘my eyesight began to fail. A small silver spot appeared in the centre of my field of vision, which gradually enlarged into an island with sharply defined bastions; the shores spread wider and wider, as though I were nearing it across a sea. When I started to walk home, I could not see where I was going; and then the island began slowly to revolve in a clockwise direction.’1

He recognised his vision as the ‘Silver Island’ or ‘Revolving Island’ to which the sacred king in a range of ancient cultures (Celtic, Greek, Egyptian...) was said to go after his sacrificial death. It is, Graves claimed, ‘seen prophetically by him when his heel is bitten by the serpent or scorpion, or pricked with the (presumably) poisoned arrow.’ Again he survived, to undergo another visionary experience – this time pharmacological – when, in 1960, he took mescaline with the mushroom ...

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