PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Subha Mukherji Dying and Living with De la Mare Carl Phillips Fall Colors and other poems Alex Wylie The Bureaucratic Sublime: on the secret joys of contemporary poetry Marilyn Hacker Montpeyroux Sonnets David Herman Memories of Raymond Williams
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This article is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

Robert Graves: A Crazy Book Grevel Lindop

The White Goddess is one of the twentieth century's most extraordinary books. Subtitled 'a historical grammar of poetic myth', it is also (amongst other things) an adventure in historical detective-work, a headlong quest through the forests of half the world's mythologies, a poet's introduction to poetry, a critique of western civilisation, a polemic about the relationship between man and woman, and a disguised autobiography. No one can understand Graves, or his poetry, without reading The White Goddess. It is tempting to go further and suggest that no one can fully understand the modern world who has not at least considered its arguments.

Graves's own account of the book's gestation is dramatic but leaves many questions unanswered. The story is worth reconstructing. In 1940 Robert and Beryl Graves moved to the village of Galmpton in South Devon, and in late 1941 Graves began to correspond with the Welsh poet Alun Lewis. They discussed the nature of poetry and poets; the name of the medieval Welsh poet Taliesin cropped up. Then, in July 1942, Graves and Alan Hodge, who had recently written a manual for writers of prose, The Reader Over Your Shoulder, began to consider collaborating on a 'book about poetry'. Topics mooted by Graves for treatment included the psychology of poetic inspiration, and the reasons for the 'aura or halo, or whatever, that clings to the name of "poet" in spite of the lamentable history of bad poetic behaviour'.1 They agreed to 'put [the] book on to ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image