Friday, December 28, 2007

Robert Graves' "The White Goddess": Websites

Reading Justin Wintle's "Furious Interiors" (reviewed here and on Amazon two days ago), I noted his admission that his subject, R.S. Thomas, rarely addresses the feminine dynamic with the poetic attention of a Ted Hughes or Robert Graves. Along with Sir Gawain, the complete works of Chaucer and Milton's "Paradise Lost," I remember my first day of grad school buying a remaindered copy with a bright yellow FS&G cover of the 1966 ed. of Graves' "The White Goddess" at the college bookstore. Signing up for a seminar in myth crit, I figured it'd come in handy. But, although its bold cover often beckoned me, I found myself discouraged by its rambling range and dubious claims. It appears he was experimenting with magic mushrooms when he wrote this, which may account for its style; similarly, he turned Laura Riding into an incarnation of the Goddess, and when she spurned his sexual yearnings, he sought the muse among quite a few other female companions. This set-up enlivened his scholarship considerably more than the likes of vicar R.S. Thomas, I suppose.

Still, at least before it wanders into uncharted realms that few of us can follow, RG does make his point. "Nowadays" is a civilization in which the prime emblems of poetry are dishonoured. In which serpent, lion and eagle belong to the circus-tent; ox, salmon and boar to the cannery; racehorse and greyhound to the betting ring; and the sacred grove to the saw-mill. In which the Moon is despised as a burned-out satellite of the Earth and woman reckoned as "auxiliary State personnel." In which money will buy almost anything but truth, and almost anyone but the truth-possessed poet. (cited here from Nowick Gray's representative essay on feminist poetics that reflects WG's impact upon neo-paganism):

This morning, nearly a quarter-century (alas) after I bought WG, I woke up curious about its contents. As any modern seeker would do, I went to Wikipedia! Here, in my own browsing of the web, are a few recommended sites.

Only one link's at Wikipedia's entry, to a site that was last updated at the start of this decade. It has further links: some dead, some surviving.

This compiler lists his own inspiration as being jumpstarted by John Montague's "About Love" collection with its translation of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill's "Blodewedd." {You can also find it in Ní Dhomhnaill's "Pharaoh's Daughter," an excellent collection of her Irish-language poems with versions by leading poets into English.) "Blodewedd" rendered by Montague: (amidst a fine assortment of post-1950 poems)

Peter Berresford Ellis demolishes Graves for his lack of research into Ogham. RG constructed an untenable 13-letter lunar/ tree alphabet. Ellis reminds us in this article from an academic journal of astrological studies on-line (1997) that RG lacked knowledge of Welsh or Irish beyond what he gleaned apparently from secondary-- and often incorrect-- sources. Not for nothing is WG listed on Wikipedia under the "Psuedoscience" category.

"The Liberty Tree" summarizes WG; two brief excerpts from RG's reconstruction of the Welsh verse as "The Battle of the Trees" and his discourse on the "Tree Alphabet."

Brief entry on "The Fallen Temple of the WG":

Short excerpts from WG on Welsh & Irish poetry and woman as poetic medium:

From the RG Trust at Oxford's discussion list, a four-page 2002 thread re: sources, given the lack of WG bibliography:

Robert Loughrey in The New Internationalist, on WG as the "book that looks slantwise at deity & poetry":

John Woodrow Presley's short review of the third part of the biography by RG's nephew, Robert Perceval Graves, of RG and his relationship with Laura Riding, one-time muse for his WG:

Louis Simpson reviews the second installment, "The Years With Laura," 1926-40:

Not to overlook RPG himself, as a literary lecturer to entice sixth-formers:
Robert Graves and the Menage-a-Trois which Failed: In this lecture we are introduced to the extraordinary story of the relationship between the poet Robert Graves, his wife Nancy Nicholson, and Laura Riding, the brilliant and seductive American poet who became Robert's muse. The tangled emotional threads are drawn out surely and tastefully, and the story ends up elevating the audience.

Robert Graves and the White Goddess: This is an entrancing lecture, full of myth and magic. From it we learn not only how Robert Graves came to write The White Goddess (probably his most enduring work), but also about the message which he was trying to convey about what it is to be a romantic poet.

Asphodel Long considers WG in light of feminist scholarship:

Here's RG's poem "The White Goddess":

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