‘The God Called Poetry’ by Robert Graves compares poetry to God. Poetry is the creation in itself. It is a world that has both qualities, the good and the bad. There is nothing direct in this world. Everything is ambiguous there. A poet resolves this ambiguity and constitutes a bridge between the “yes” and “no”, the kind and the cruel, creativity and destruction. Like a God, poetry is the preserver as well as the destructor. Hence, if one wishes to learn the art one must understand the gospel of “Poetry”.
This poem compares poetry to God. The poet has started to know at last that what he tries to measure is something great hence immeasurable. With the help of poetry, he can leap higher than he ever thought before. The poet thinks poetry was there even before the creation as if it is God who made this whole universe. Thereafter the poet goes on to describe the nature of poetry. Comparing it to the Greek god Janus, he says it has two heads conjoined together. One face symbolizes creation and another destruction just like God. If the speaker wants to be a poet he has to establish a balance between the two qualities in poetry.
You can read the full poem here and more Robert Graves poems here.
‘The God Called Poetry’ consists of eight stanzas. The line count of each stanza of the poem is irregular. The rhyme scheme of the poem doesn’t follow a specific pattern. In some instances, the lines rhyme alternatively. Whereas, some lines rhyme consecutively. As an example, in the first stanza, the rhyme scheme is ABACCD. In the second stanza, the rhyme scheme is AABBCCB. For this reason, the rhyme scheme is regular yet doesn’t follow a pattern. Moreover, the overall poem is composed of iambic tetrameter. There are some hypermetrical endings in the poem along with some trochaic variations.
‘The God Called Poetry’ contains several literary devices. The poet uses a metaphor in the title of the poem and the lines, “The form and measure of that vast/ God we call Poetry”. Here, the poet compares poetry to God. It is also an example of personification. In the third stanza, there is a repetition of the word “older” that is meant for the sake of emphasis. The last two lines of this stanza contain anaphora. The following stanza contains onomatopoeia in the line, “At you he roars, or he will coo”. Apart from that, the poet uses antithesis, paradox, and epigram in the following section of this poem. As an example, “He smites you down, he succours you” contains an antithesis. However, there is an oxymoron in “glorious fearful monster”.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Now I begin to know at last,
And leaps me through his paper hoops
A little higher every time.
‘The God Called Poetry’ begins with the poet’s understanding of God called poetry. Nowadays, when he sits to write, he can understand what he tries to rhyme, form, or measure, is like God, immeasurable, and formless. Poetry is vast and its range is great. The God whom the poet finds in poetry, helps him to leap higher. The poet humorously says, he stoops and leaps him through the paper hoops a little higher every time. As if poetry plays with the poet as a father plays with his son.
Tempts me to think I’ll grow a proper
Singing cricket or grass-hopper
Rustling the thick stands of his hair.
In the second stanza of ‘The God Called Poetry,’ the poet uses an allusion to the poem, ‘On the Grasshopper and Cricket’ by John Keats. Poetry makes the poet think that one day he will transform into a proper “Singing cricket or grass-hopper”. As in Keats’ poem, those insects continue the poetry of the earth, the poet wants to be like those creatures to carry on the unending process called poetry. However, here the poet means when his poetic abilities grow better the crowd will be shocked to know about him. He will be bolder day by day as God himself is there to assist him.
He is older than the seas,
Older than the plains and hills,
He sings to you from window sills.
Here, Graves illustrates the God-named poetry. He is older than the seas, plains, and hills. Even he existed before the creation of the sun. Here, the poet refers to poetry as if it is the creator of the whole universe. Here, the poet uses a metaphor in “sun’s hot wheel”. Moreover, the poet says poetry wakes the gale or the stormy wind that uproots the trees on earth. It symbolizes the destructive side of the creator. In this poem, God, the creator of the universe, is synonymous with poetry. However, the God who at times tears down creation is also the mild breeze coming from one’s window sills.
At you he roars, or he will coo,
He shouts and screams when hell is hot,
And where you seek him, he is not.
The fourth stanza of ‘The God Called Poetry’ similarly talks about the nature of poetry. In this poem, the poet directly addresses the readers as well as mankind. The poet says, sometimes the god called poetry roars at a person, and sometimes he sings like a bird. Moreover, when the hell or the condition of the earth becomes hell-like, he shouts and screams in disgust. It’s not that poetry can shout itself. One can hear the shouting and scream of this god through a poet’s work. Thereafter, the poet refers metaphorically to war and compares it to “hell” mentioned in the previous line. He smites one down and he is also there to assist a person in healing up. But it is tough to find him. The poet says, “And where you seek him, he is not.”
To-day I see he has two heads
Like Janus—calm, benignant, this;
He is YES and he is NO.
The fifth stanza compares poetry to the two-headed god, Janus. One head of Janus is calm and benignant and the other one is grim and scowling. His beard spreads from chin to chin. Here, the poet uses the image of Janus but not associates its actual quality with the god called poetry. That’s why the poet says, “this god” has the power that is immeasurable at every hour. He grows powerful in every moment. Thereafter, the poet says, he taught lovers how to kiss. It is he who brings down sunshine after a shower. Thunder and hatred are also his qualities. At last, the poet remarks, “He is YES and he is NO.” So, this god has a duality of every quality he possesses.
The black beard spoke and said to me,
‘Human fraility though you be,
To your gales of anger bend.’
In this stanza, Graves captures the conversation between him and the god called poetry. The black-bearded head of the god ordered the poet to shout at the injustice that occurs in the world and be harsh in his expression. The God knows that the poet is frail like other human beings. To become a true poet, he should obey god’s order. If the poet does so, the rest of mankind will obey him. Even nature will obey the poet. Every human folly will hop and skip at the terror of the poet’s ironic whip. Here, the poet uses a metaphor in “gales of anger”. It’s a reference to the straightforward expression of the poet that is meant for correcting the follies of mankind.
The pale beard spoke and said in turn
‘True: a prize goes to the stern,
Graciously with no doubt or pain.’
The seventh stanza of ‘The God Called Poetry’ presents what the pale-bearded head of the god of poetry told the poet. The milder side of God supports the hot-headed face’s arguments. According to him, the prize goes to the stern. In contrast, he says one should not be so firm that he even forgets to sing and laugh heartily. One must think easily and his thoughts should rub like the air blowing over the plain. Moreover, the poetry-god urges the poet to bathe in the waters and drink the warmth of the sun. He should close to the essence of nature and compose such songs that can soothe one’s heart, not hurt one’s feelings.
If the poet wants to be great in his art, he should incorporate the element of firmness and kindness with proper care and due regard to balancing those emotions. If he can do so, humans will understand his ideas “graciously with no doubt or pain.”
Then speaking from his double head
The glorious fearful monster said
A poet you shall be, my son.’
In the last stanza of ‘The God Called Poetry’, Graves furthermore refers to the remarks of the two-headed god. Here, the poet refers to poetry as the “glorious” yet “fearful monster”. So, on one hand, mastering the art can bring one glory yet it’s tough to handle as it’s like a fearful monster. In this section, the god collectively says, he is both the affirmative, “Yes” and the negative, “No”. One is black as pitch and white as snow. Here, “black” refers to pessimism, and “snow” refers to optimism and hope. The god orders the poet to love him, at the same time hate him too. But the poet has to hate but with love, and also has to take the perfect along with vile.
In this way, a poet can do equal justice. Otherwise, his poetry will be one-sided, hence biased. The poet has to nurture the mildness of the moon and the power of the sun in his heart. Thereafter, the god refers to his creation of nature and says it up to the poet how he looks at it. He can either curse the current state of nature or be happy with the beauty of it. In this way, he can be a true “poet”.
‘The God Called Poetry’ encompasses several elements of the past. He refers to the idea of romanticism. At the same time, being a soldier at war, he also introduces the horrors of war in the poem. Moreover, there are elements of classicism in the poem as well as the message of “going back to nature”. So, it’s a balanced poem regarding the themes showcased here. However, being a modern poem, it doesn’t follow a conventional decorum.
Like ‘The God Called Poetry’ by Robert Graves, the following poems also talk about poetry as a whole.
- Poetry by Marianne Moore – Discusses the poet’s feelings about poetry. Read more Marianne Moor poetry.
- Poetry, Poem by Pablo Neruda – Talks about poetic inspiration and how it works in favor of the poet. Discover more Pablo Neruda poems.
- Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins – Is one of the best Billy Collins poems. It talks about how to appreciate poetry.
- Of Modern Poetry by Wallace Stevens – Here, Wallace Stevens shares how “modern poetry” should be. Explore more Wallace Stevens poems.