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This article is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

Out of Time: Robert Graves in Perspective Paul O'Prey

There are various reasons for the current neglect of Robert Graves's poetry, but being second-rate is not one of them. The publication of the third and final volume of his Complete Poems makes clear the enormity of his achievement as a poet. It also makes one puzzle over why this achievement seems to pass unrecognised.

Few of Graves's contemporaries can match his craftsmanship, his mastery of language and form. Even fewer can match his unique combination of emotional complexity and intellectual clarity, of romantic passion and classical poise. But who, exactly, are his contemporaries? Graves does not fit easily into any one period, movement or school. In the course of a long life he was a role model for both Wilfred Owen, who died in 1918, and Ted Hughes, whose first poems were published forty years later. His ideas seemed exciting, even dangerous, both in 1916 and 1966.

From Over the Brazier in 1914 to At the Gate in 1974, Graves wrote thirty-nine volumes of poetry (excluding selections and anthologies). In addition, he wrote nearly a hundred other books of fiction and non-fiction, including classics such as I, Claudius and The White Goddess. This prodigious output - more than twelve hundred poems written over a period of sixty-five years - is part of the problem. Such a fertile and varied output makes it difficult to classify or pigeonhole him as a writer, which in turn presents a problem for editors of anthologies, literary historians, critics, ...


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