This week is brought to you by Robert Graves; in my unhumble opinion, the best of the War Poets. In an effort to excise himself from the patrician shadow of his father, Graves joined the military to fight in the Great War. He was promptly killed, or at least pronounced dead by the company surgeon and his commander who let Robert’s parents know that they would be setting one less place at the dinner table next Christmas. His “death” and experiences in the war made civilian life a bit gristly. Graves was unable to square the romantic notions of King and county, glory and bravery, with the horrors he experienced on the continent. The world was seemingly going in the wrong direction prompting him to write Good-bye To All That.
Little did his trouser wearing wife, Nancy, realize at the time, but by “Good-bye To All That” meant leaving her and their four children for a domineering dress wearing American poetess named Laura Riding. To say Laura Riding was flighty would be unfair considering she famously tried to ground herself after saying “Good-bye chaps.” by engaging in an act of self defenestration from the third floor. She suffered only a broken hip, a result that led Graves’ daughter Catharine to state “I suppose she survived… she shouldn’t have, but she did. A mistake, I think.”
Graves lived a great deal of his life in isolation from the literary world on the island of Majorca. It is said he had apostles; want to be poets and soul seekers. Over the years he dallied with various women, or muses as he saw them, and thus inspired he wrote. He wrote a lot. He later remarried, adding another four children to the world.
Was he a traditional wastrel in the P.O.E.T.S. Day mold? No. He lived to the ripe old age of ninety and taught at Oxford. Not exactly wastrel resume fare. He did write about Bacchanals; his theory being that the berzerk like fugues the ancient Greek participants whipped themselves into were hallucinogenic mushroom inspired rather than a gift of the vine. His writings on the subject were a little too informed. So he has that going for him. He is also probably my favorite poet, so screw the mold. Finally, he wrote a lot. He’s in.
Tell the boss you are sick, sneak out the back door, fake your death, say “Good-bye chaps,” and hop out the window, whatever it takes. Get out early and have a toast with your favorite adult beverage to Robert Graves and his many muses.
“What do you think
The bravest drink
Under the sky?”
“Strong beer,” said I.
“There’s a place for everything,
There’s a place for everything
Where it ought to be:
For a chicken, the hen’s wing;
For poison, the bee’s sting;
For almond-blossom, Spring;
A beerhouse for me.”
“There’s a prize for every one
Every one, any one,
There’s a prize for every one,
Whoever he may be:
Crags for the mountaineer,
Flags for the Fusilier,
For English poets, beer!
Strong beer for me!”
“Tell us, now, how and when
We may find the bravest men?”
“A sure test, an easy test:
Those that drink beer are the best,
Brown beer strongly brewed,
English drink and English food.”
Oh, never choose as Gideon chose
By the cold well, but rather those
Who look on beer when it is brown,Smack their lips and gulp it down.
Leave the lads who tamely drink
With Gideon by the water brink,
But search the benches of the Plough,
The Tun, the Sun, the Spotted Cow,
For jolly rascal lads who pray,
Pewter in hand, at close of day,
“Teach me to live that I may fear
The grave as little as my beer.”
- Robert Graves