With poetry in his heart
Robert Graves considered himself a poet, wrote volumes of poetry, and claimed to live his life entirely on poetical principles.
And is now chiefly known for works of prose.
His historical novel I, Claudius (1934) and its follow-up, Claudius the God (1943), are certainly his two best-read creations.
Third may be his scathing and once-scandalous memoir—in prose—Good-bye to All That (1929, revised 1957), recalling his youth and war experiences.
Fourth is probably his book of criticism—in prose, though poetical prose—The White Goddess (1948), named for his professed muse and proclaiming the feminine principles of love and destruction as his inspiration over the masculine values of rationality.
And after that come his scholarly prose works on religion and mythology—such as The Nazarene Gospel Restored (1953),The Greek Myths (1955), and The Hebrew Myths (1964)—which have had notable influence on later authors in the field.
Then there are his translations of classical literature, some of which are still in circulation.
The British-born writer published, in fact, over 140 books in a wide variety of literary genres. Still, all the biographies call him a poet first. And in poetry compendiums you may actually find the odd poem of his included among the greats.
It's been suggested Graves failed to make a lasting mark in poetry in the twentieth century because he was a Romantic poet at a time when Romanticism was dying and imagism was coming to the fore. But much of his poetry was lively and modern in its cynicism. Some of his most memorable poetry was bitingly humorous, such as those that appeared in the volume Fairies and Fusiliers (1917), including the last poem, "Free Verse", which concludes:
A merry little rhyme
In a jolly little time
And poke it,
And choke it,
Change it, arrange it,
Straight-lace it, deface it,
Pleat it with pleats,
Sheet it with sheets
Of empty conceits,
And chop and chew,
And hack and hew,
And weld it into a uniform stanza,
And evolve a neat,
Or take a later poem, "A Slice of Wedding Cake", which asks the immortal question:
Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.
Too opinionated? Too off the wall? I don't know, maybe not the greatest-lit stuff, but enjoyable and enlightening.
He was also known as a character in real life ... had a dramatic and romantic private life you can read about somewhere else by someone who cares. I don't have time for all that if I'm going to get through even a fraction of his work in my own lifetime.
— Eric McMillan