Robert Graves

Biography of Robert Graves

Robert Graves is remembered as a poet, historian, literary critic, and classicist. He wrote poems, biographies, and anthologies. Two of his best-known words, A Survey of Modernist Poetry and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies, he completed alongside one of his major literary influences, Laura Riding.

Robert Graves

Life Facts

  • Robert Graves was born in Wimbledon, Surrey, England in July of 1895.
  • In 1913 he won a scholarship to study at St. John’s College, Oxford.
  • ‘Lawrence and the Arabs’ made Graves a financial success.
  • When Graves was twenty-two he married Nancy Nicholson.
  • He died from heart failure in December of 1985.

Interesting Facts

  • Robert Graves was friends with Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
  • In 1961 Graves became Professor of Poetry at Oxford.
  • In the 1970s he suffered from memory loss.
  • He wrote about the life of the Roman emperor Claudius.
  • He founded Seizin Press along with Laura Riding.

Famous Poems

  • ‘The Naked and Nude’ is a wonderful poem about art, language, and perception. In the next, Graves explores the difference, or lack thereof, between nakedness and nudity. At first, he describes them as being entirely different from one another. But, by the end, his arguments prove the opposite point, that they are actually the same thing.
  • ‘Goliath and David’ is a clever piece that transforms the story of “David and Goliath”. In the poem, he retells the tale. This time, David does not prevail over the giant. He is felled quickly from one swing of Goliath’s wooden staff. By remaking the story in this much darker way, Graves is encouraging the reader to remember that in the real world those with lesser means do not always prevail.
  • ‘The Cool Web’ focuses on language and the human experience. Specifically, this poem is concerned with the ability of language to define how we experience the world. Without language, humanity would lose control. We would go mad and destroy ourselves. But, on the other side of the equation, is too much mastery of language. If this happens, we’ll also meet our deaths.
  • ‘A Frosty Night’ is a ballad that explores the complex emotional situation of the speaker. The poem begins by bringing in Alice and her mother, the two characters that narrate the poem. Throughout, the mother tries to understand what’s bothering her daughter, but Alice shrugs it off. Her mother is not willing to let the issue drop and eventually, it’s revealed that Alice is in love.
  • The God Called Poetry is one of many wonderful poems written about writing. In the text, the poet personifies poetry as a “God” that control him. It encourages him to jump through hoops, develop new ideas, struggle, and experience emotion. Graves uses strong images throughout the poem to depict the emotional tumult one endures while writing.

Early Life

Robert Graves was born in Wimbledon, Surrey, England in July of 1895. His parents were Alfred Perceval Graves, a school inspector and scholar, and Amalie Elisabeth Sophie von Ranke. Graves was one of ten children and took a great deal of direction from his parents as he grew up. He grew up under the influence of his mother’s puritanical beliefs and came to appreciate the Celtic myths studied by his father. When Graves was very young he contracted measles and almost lost his life to the disease.

In 1913 he won a scholarship to study at St. John’s College, Oxford. He did not remain at the school due to the start of World War I. Graves enlisted as a junior officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He was eventually promoted to lieutenant and then to captain. Two years later he was injured in the Somme offensive when a shell-fragment went through one of his lungs. It was not expected that he would survive.

His first collection of poetry, Over the Brazier, was published while he was recovering. Graves quickly gained a reputation as a war poet known for his realistic poems that detailed the conflict on the frontlines. He spent the rest of the war in England. While convalescing he became close with the marginally better-known poet, Siegfried Sassoon. He also met his first real love, a nurse named Marjorie.

Sassoon made a number of antiwar statements in 1917 and came close to facing court-martial. Graves helped his friend by persuading the authorities that Sassoon was shell shocked and not responsible for his actions. Graves and Sassoon both spent time at Craiglockhart, a military hospital in England. Here, they met Wilfred Owen. It was in the same year that Graves was posted to Limerick. He woke one morning and decide to flee to Waterloo under the suspicion he was contracting Spanish Flue.

Literary Career

When Graves was twenty-two he married Nancy Nicholson. The two would go on to have four children together. He was deeply traumatized by the war but went on to Oxford. His next collection of poetry, The Feather Bed, was published in 1923. It was followed by Mock Beggar Hall in 1924.

Toward the middle of the 1920s, his writing style went through a transformative period. He met Laura Riding an American poet and theorist who influenced him greatly. Graves failed his B.A. but was allowed to take a B.Litt, allowing him to start a teaching career.  In 1926 he took up a position teaching at Cairo University where he lived with his wife, children, and Laura Riding.

Graves and his wife Nancy permanently separated in 1927, the same year he published Lawrence and the Arabs. The volume was a biography of T.E. Lawrence which became a commercial success. This work was followed by Goodbye to All That, an autobiographical account of the trauma he endured during the war years. This book was one of his most successful but cost him a number of friendships. He soon left on a trip to Majorca alongside Laura Riding.

During this period of time, he completed a number of books of verse and collections of criticism on which he collaborated with Laura. They founded Seizin Press in 1928 and the magazine, Epilogue, in 1935. It was his goal to make his work therapeutic for both writer and reader. Riding and Graves wrote two academic books together, A Survey of Modernist Poetry and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies. These works were published in 1927 and 1928 and had a great influence on literary criticism.

Later Career and Death

In 1934 and 1935 he finished I, Claudius and Claudius the God, works detailing the life of the Roman emperor Claudius. In 1938 he wrote on the career of the Byzantine general Belisarius in Count Belisarius. When the Spanish Civil War broke out Riding and Graves left Majorica and moved to the United States, specifically, Pennsylvania.

Their relationship was volatile and they would eventually break up, triggering Graves to return to England. He soon began a relationship with Beryl Hodge who was already married to the writer Alan Hodge. The two moved into a home with their three children in Majorca.

In 1946 he published the historical novel, King Jesus and then The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth two years later. Graves continued to publish throughout the 1950s. His later works included The Greek Myths, The Nazarene Gospel Restored, and Catacrok! Mostly Stories, Mostly Funny. In 1961 Graves became Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He remained in this position until his death in 1966.

Starting in the early 1970s he began to suffer from memory loss. By 1975 he stopped working and then died from heart failure ten years later in December of 1985.

Influence from other Poets

Robert Graves was notably influenced by writers such as George Mallory, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Laura Riding, and various Celtic poets his father introduced him to in his youth.

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Will created Poem Analysis back in 2015 and has a team of the best poetry experts helping him analyze poems from the past and present. Although he has a background in Automotive Engineering, having worked for McLaren testing supercars, Will has a keen eye for poetry and literature.
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