Ups and downs


During wars and catastrophes is it not natural to desire the warmth and comfort of love? Would this not be why there is often a rise in birth rates during such critical periods? Could it also stem from another facet of natural instinct, to try to compensate for tragic loss of live? If so perhaps Robert Graves himself would have upheld this theory. And surely nothing can inspire more hope than the promise of new life, and a new born child.

Robert Graves (1895-1985) was an English poet, novelist and translator. Because of the German element in his name, (Robert von Ranke Graves) from the German nobility of his mother, he was victimised by his classmates. He was also tormented for his outspokenness, his studiousness and his modest means in relation to the many other students from wealthier families at Charterhouse to where he had won a scholarship.
In response he began to write poetry, pretending he was a bit bereft of reason, and took up boxing. He was successful enough in the sport to become the school's welter and middle weight champion.

When the First World War broke out he enlisted without hesitation. During the Battle of the Somme he was very badly wounded, but despite all expectations he survived. He was then known as a 'war poet', but he chose to omit these realistic poems from his works, as he thought there were then too many war poets and war poems. From his war memories he wrote his famous Good-bye to all that.

Although it's possible that Graves had bisexual tendencies, he married twice and had a family of eight children (evidence of the 'upheld phenomenon'). After the war he was determined to make a living from his writing, but despite his excelling in the retelling of Greek Myths, for example, earning sufficient to get by on was a hard process, and his physical and mental condition made it even more difficult.
In 1934 however, Graves won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for I, Claudius and Claudius the God.
Towards the end of his life he suffered from memory loss which in 1975, caused him to cease writing altogether. More on his biography can be found here.

Graves obviously didn't lack humour, as the following poem fully points out, but as I thought it might need a less prominent sequel, to complete the balance of nature, to a minor extent, I've taken the liberty of adding a more modest one. With apologies, naturally, to Robert Graves.

 Down, wanton, down! Have you no shame
That at the whisper of Love's name,
Or Beauty's, presto! up you raise
Your angry head and stand at gaze?

 Poor bombard-captain, sworn to reach
The ravelin and effect a breach-
Indifferent what you storm or why,
So be that in the breach you die!

Love may be blind, but Love at least
   Knows what is man and what mere beast;
Or Beauty wayward, but requires
More delicacy from her squires.

Tell me, my witless, whose one boast
 Could be your staunchness at the post,
When were you made a man of parts
To think fine and profess the arts?

Will many-gifted Beauty come
 Bowing to your bald rule of thumb,
 Or Love swear loyalty to your crown?
  Be gone, have done! Down, wanton, down!
                                                                        Robert Graves 

                              Up, lifeless, up! Have you no aim                                
 That shrinks from duty in Love's name,
Or by beauty is barely moved?
          As if such weakness is behoved!           

Poor wrinkled soul prefers to hide
    Than rise to heights that most men pride-
Indifferent to exquisite charms,
Yet victim of its private qualms.

    Love may be blind, but true Love knows
 The essence of what comes and goes,
And Beauty cannot but expect
Replete bestowal of respect.

Tell me, o flaccid, spineless soul
  Where is your pride, what is your goal,
Who can explain when and why
   Such heads of state are not held high?

 Will many-wondrous Beauty come
Enamoured by this lowly one
Too dull and impolite to rise
 To offer Love's eternal prize?

Text and parody © Mirino. Sources- The Chatto Book of Love Poetry. Wikipeadia. Art- 'In the Tepidarium', by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1881). Lady Lever Gallery. With thanks to Wikipedia Commons. March, 2011

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