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From the NS archive: Graves Supérieur

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16.09.2020

In 1940, Stephen Spender, one of the great poets of the age, reviewed “No More Ghosts, Selected Poems” by Robert Graves. He found Graves to be a frustrating poet, capable of directness and power but also of too much restraint and self-awareness. “Fundamentally Graves is more genuinely and truthfully an individual than are many of his contemporaries, less of the literary man,” thought Spender, “though excessive prose-writing has probably not helped the flow of his metres.” Indeed, he found in the poems thoughts perhaps better expressed in prose. At his best, however, Graves’s “powerful will and intellect” made him “the equal of Eliot, or Auden, or later Yeats”.

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It is excellent that this selection should have been made of Robert Graves’s always remarkable, often beautiful, often arid, cantankerous, difficult and forbidding, poems. His sturdy craftsmanship, the concentration of his thought, make Graves’s poems extremely individual, and it is perhaps their uncompromising qualities that make them all too neglected. In an early poem, “Rocky Acres”, Graves gives us a picture that remarkably resembles the effect of his own poems:

“This is a wild land, country of my choice, With harsh craggy mountain, moor ample and bare. Seldom in these acres is heard any voice But voice of cold water that runs here and there

Through rocks and lank heather growing without care.”

The reader of his Collected Poems may well quail before this craggy landscape, but having acclimatised himself by this Sesame Book, he will certainly acquire a taste for Graves's........

© New Statesman


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