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Complete Poems

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Graves described poetry as his ruling passion, and for him love was 'the main theme and origin of true poems'. He created a rich mythology where love ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of Complete Poems

Overall customer rating: 5.000
JohnL

A Splendid Collected Poems

by JohnL on Jan 29, 2009

Robert Graves (1895?1985) is perhaps best known for his Claudius novels and his WW1 autobiography Goodbye to All That, but he was also one of the most considerable English poets of the C20. His poetic career stretched from WW1 to the 1970s, and poetic works by him have been in print continuously in this period and after his death. Indeed such has been the popularity of his works that in the 1940 and 50s a new volume by him would routinely out-sell new works by poets far more talked-about, such as Auden. However during his career Graves was not always the best editor of his own poetry, for although, unlike others, he rarely re-wrote old poems, his custom in selecting his poetry for republication was to favour the poetry he was writing at the time, and the last Collected Poems of his lifetime (Cassell, 1975) was heavily biased towards his poetry of the 50s and 60s. This Complete Poems (published in three volumes by Carcanet in the 1990s and rebulished in one volume by Penguin in 2003) has as its rationale to undo this bias, and it collects all the poetry, arranged by the collection in which each poem first appeared. What it reveals is that Graves was a very consistent poet throughout his career, and that though he may in later life have preferred his later poetry, his earlier poetry is by no means inferior. His WW1 poetry, for example, though not as stark as that of Owen and Sassoon, is no less realistic, or horrifying. Many readers may also prefer the questioning and unsatisfied poetry of the 1920s and 30s to the certainties with which the older Graves began to surround himself. There are, however, certain constants within Graves? poetry of all periods. One is the mode: he was first and foremost a lyric poet throughout his career and although he wrote a couple of extended poems in the 1920s there are no epics, or epistles, or modernist collages in his oeuvre. The type of poem he wrote best was that kind which he saw as constituting the vital tradition of English poetry: the personal lyric, honest, vigorous, colloquial, and at times coruscating. And such poems are to found throughout this volume. However Graves did innovate, for one thing he, along with other poets, naturalised the unrhymed lyric in English, for example the poem ?The Cuirassiers of the Frontier?. Detractors have accused Graves? poetry of many faults: its lyric mode, its diction and rhythms, Graves? preoccupation with an extreme Romantic view of love and so forth, but the poetry is distinctive and seems to be perennial. These volumes show that his work has a greater range and variety than it is usually considered as having, and, like the collected poems of any substantial poet, they are a delight to browse in. It is interesting, for example, to find that Graves was in the 1960s already writing satires against ?pluto-democratic civilisation?. The poems in this Complete Poems read in a very familiar and grateful way; they have in effect joined the tradition of the plain style of English poetry?Graves did this very well, and many of his poems will last.

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