Complete Poems 3 (Robert Graves Programme) by Robert Graves

Their honest, first reluctance to agree.

  Other seasons, other thoughts and reasons,

  Other fears or phases of the moon:

  In loving-kindness we grow grey together –

  Like Joan and Darby in their weather-lodge

  Who never venture out in the same weather.


  Looked tough, was tall and permanently bronzed

  (I should guess Berkeley, do not quote me, though)

  Not an ounce above the statutory weight,

  Two hundred pounds, most of it bone and muscle;

  Blue-eyed, with jutting chin and jutting brows.

  The nose, however, did not command the chin.

  Myself, I would rather have no chin at all

  Than one that dared be wiser than its boss.

  As for his mouth, a man-sized Cupid bow,

  Curved for kissing a diminutive mother

  And flashing teen-age smiles of high intent:

  Was that the cause, or was it one more symptom,

  Of his twin habits – equally repulsive

  To us inveterate Western Europeans –

  Downing a midday pint of raw cow’s milk

  And treating France’s noblest vintages

  Like bath-tub gin whenever he got high?


  I brought a Death of Nelson home, where I

  Hung it, by inadvertence, on a fly.

  Down crashed the heavy frame, off the fly flew,

  And how my curses rang! Frankly, I own

  To a sad lack of humour when alone –

  Like you, by God, and you, and even you!


  ‘Is this,’ she asked, ‘what the lower orders call …?’

  ‘Yes, yes,’ replied her lover, Lord Whitehall,

  ‘But, hush!, the expression is a trifle crude –’

  ‘Much too good for them,’ cried Lady Ermintrude.

  ‘Nevertheless,’ resumed the tactless peer,

  ‘Those who excel at it – pray, do not sneer –

  Are, by and large, of obscure parentage.

  One girl I knew –’

  ‘Take that!’ she shouted, red with rage.


  Alone, alone and well alone at last,

  Sentries by stealth outwitted, frontiers passed!

  Yet walking alien thoroughfares you brood

  Fearfully on the man by this feat rescued.

  Never before, though trusted friends were few,

  Though your own love of loves her oath outgrew,

  Though off to the loud wars your children ran,

  Never before closeted with a were-man.

  Loathing his sylvan company, unable

  To bed with him or set his place at table,

  A savage life you lead, condemned to share

  Your hearth with one whose habitat is nowhere.


  …At that moment the Author was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock and on his return found to his mortification that though he retained some vague recollection of his vision, yet with the exception of eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away.

  Coleridge’s preface to Kubla Khan: A Fragment

  Unkind fate sent the Porlock person

  To collect fivepence from a poet’s house;

  Pocketing which old debt he drove away,

  Heedless and gay, homeward bound for Porlock.

  O Porlock person, habitual scapegoat,

  Should any masterpiece be marred or scotched,

  I wish your burly fist on the front door

  Had banged yet oftener in literature!

  From The Penny Fiddle



  Yesterday I bought a penny fiddle

  And put it to my chin to play,

  But I found that the strings were painted,

  So I threw my fiddle away.

  A gipsy girl found my penny fiddle

  As it lay abandoned there;

  When she asked me if she might keep it,

  I told her I did not care.

  Then she drew such music from the fiddle

  With help of a farthing bow,

  That I offered five shillings for the secret.

  But, alas, she would not let it go.


  Robinson Crusoe cut his coats

  Not too narrow, not too big,

  From the hides of nanny-goats;

  Yet he longed to keep a pig.

  Robinson Crusoe sat in grief,

  All day long he sometimes sat,

  Gazing at the coral reef,

  Grumbling to his favourite cat.

  ‘Queen of Pussies,’ he would say,

  ‘Two things I am sure about:

  Bacon should begin the day,

  “Pork!” should put the candle out.’


  As I was a-hoeing, a-hoeing my lands,

  Six badgers walked up, with white wands in their hands.

  They formed a ring round me and, bowing, they said:

  ‘Hurry home, Farmer George, for the table is spread!

  There’s pie in the oven, there’s beef on the plate:

  Hurry home, Farmer George, if you would not be late!’

  So homeward went I, but could not understand

  Why six fine dog-badgers with white wands in hand

  Should seek me out hoeing, and bow in a ring,

  And all to inform me so common a thing!


  King Duncan had a fool called Leery

  And gave him very high pay

  To tell him stories after dinner,

  A new one every day;

  But if the stories failed him

  (As Leery did agree)

  The King would call his merry men all

  And hang him from a tree.

  Leery began with Jim o’ Binnorie

  Who danced on Stirling Rock

  And emptied a peck of pickled eels

  All over his brother Jock;

  Yet Jock refrained from unkind words

  That many a lad might use,

  And while Jim slept on a load of hay

  Put five live eels in his shoes.

  Leery had told nine hundred tales

  And found no others to tell,

  He started from the first once more –

  King Duncan knew it well.

  ‘Old friends are best, dear Fool,’ he cried,

  ‘And old yarns heard again.

  You may tell me the story of Jock o’ Binnorie

  Every night of my reign!’

  From More Poems 1961



  All the wolves of the forest

  Howl for Lyceia,

  Crowding together

  In a close circle,

  Tongues a-loll.

  A silver serpent

  Coiled at her waist

  And a quiver at knee,

  She combs fine tresses

  With a fine comb:

  Wolf-like, woman-like,

  Gazing about her,

  Greeting the wolves;

  Partial to many,

  Yet masked in pride.

  The young wolves snarl,

  They snap at one another

  Under the moon.

  ‘Beasts, be reasonable,

  My beauty is my own!’

  Lyceia has a light foot

  For a weaving walk.

  Her archer muscles

  Warn them how tightly

  She can stretch the string.

  I question Lyceia,

  Whom I find posted

  Under the pine trees

  One early morning:

  ‘What do the wolves learn?’

  ‘They learn only envy,’

  Lyceia answers,

  ‘Envy and hope,

  Hope an
d chagrin.

  Would you howl too

  In that wolfish circle?’

  She laughs as she speaks.


  Love is a universal migraine,

  A bright stain on the vision

  Blotting out reason.

  Symptoms of true love

  Are leanness, jealousy,

  Laggard dawns;

  Are omens and nightmares –

  Listening for a knock,

  Waiting for a sign:

  For a touch of her fingers

  In a darkened room,

  For a searching look.

  Take courage, lover!

  Could you endure such grief

  At any hand but hers?


  Since now I dare not ask

  Any gift from you, or gentle task,

  Or lover’s promise – nor yet refuse

  Whatever I can give and you dare choose –

  Have pity on us both: choose well

  On this sharp ridge dividing death from hell.


  We never would have loved had love not struck

  Swifter than reason, and despite reason:

  Under the olives, our hands interlocked,

  We both fell silent:

  Each listened for the other’s answering

  Sigh of unreasonableness –

  Innocent, gentle, bold, enduring, proud.


  Drowsing in my chair of disbelief

  I watch the door as it slowly opens –

  A trick of the night wind?

  Your slender body seems a shaft of moonlight

  Against the door as it gently closes.

  Do you cast no shadow?

  Your whisper is too soft for credence,

  Your tread like blossom drifting from a bough,

  Your touch even softer.

  You wear that sorrowful and tender mask

  Which on high mountain tops in heather-flow

  Entrances lonely shepherds;

  And though a single word scatters all doubts

  I quake for wonder at your choice of me:

  Why, why and why?


  Are you shaken, are you stirred

  By a whisper of love?

  Spell-bound to a word

  Does Time cease to move,

  Till her calm grey eye

  Expands to a sky

  And the clouds of her hair

  Like storms go by?


  Though cruel seas like mountains fill the bay,

  Wrecking the quayside huts,

  Salting our vineyards with tall showers of spray;

  And though the moon shines dangerously clear,

  Fixed in another cycle

  Than the sun’s progress round the felloe’d year;

  And though I may not hope to dwell apart

  With you on Apple Island

  Unless my breast be docile to the dart –

  Why should I fear your element, the sea,

  Or the full moon, your mirror,

  Or the halved apple from your holy tree?


  It is hard to be a man

  Whose word is his bond

  In love with such a woman,

  When he builds on a promise

  She lightly let fall

  In carelessness of spirit.

  The more sternly he asks her

  To stand by that promise

  The faster she flies.

  But is it less hard

  To be born such a woman

  With wings like a falcon

  And in carelessness of spirit

  To love such a man?


  ‘Do you delude yourself?’ a neighbour asks,

  Dismayed by my abstraction.

  But though love cannot question love

  Nor need deny its need,

  Pity the man who finds a rebel heart

  Under his breastbone drumming

  Which reason warns him he should drown

  In midnight wastes of sea.

  Now as he stalks between tormented pines

  (The moon in her last quarter)

  A lissom spectre glides ahead

  And utters not a word.

  Waves tasselled with dark weed come rearing up

  Like castle walls, disclosing

  Deep in their troughs a ribbed sea-floor

  To break his bones upon.

  – Clasp both your hands under my naked foot

  And press hard, as I taught you:

  A trick to mitigate the pangs

  Either of birth or love.


  Your sudden laugh restored felicity –

  Everything grew clear that before would not:

  The impossible genies, the extravagants,

  Swung in to establish themselves fairly

  As at last manageable elements

  In a most daylight-simple plot.

  It was the identity of opposites

  Had so confused my all too sober wits.


  Lying between your sheets, I challenge

  A watersnake in a swoln cataract

  Or a starved lioness among drifts of snow.

  Yet dare it out, for after each death grapple,

  Each gorgon stare borrowed from very hate,

  A childish innocent smile touches your lips,

  Your eyelids droop, fearless and careless,

  And sleep remoulds the lineaments of love.


  A difficult achievement for true lovers

  Is to lie mute, without embrace or kiss,

  Without a rustle or a smothered sigh,

  Basking each in the other’s glory.

  Let us not undervalue lips or arms

  As reassurances of constancy,

  Or speech as necessary communication

  When troubled hearts go groping through the dusk;

  Yet lovers who have learned this last refinement –

  To lie apart, yet sleep and dream together

  Motionless under their starred coverlet –

  Crown love with wreaths of myrtle.


  Going confidently into the garden

  Where she made much of you four hours ago

  You find another person in her seat.

  If your scalp crawls and your eyes prick at sight

  Of her white motionless face and folded hands

  Framed in such thunderclouds of sorrow,

  Give her no word of consolation, man,

  Dissemble your own anguish,

  Withdraw in silence, gaze averted –

  This is the dark edge of her double-axe:

  Divine mourning for what cannot be.


  Almost I could prefer

  A flare of anger

  To your dumb signal of displeasure.

  Must it be my task

  To assume the mask

  Of not desiring what I may not ask?

  On a wide bed,

  Both arms outspread,

  I watch the spites do battle in my head,

  Yet know this sickness

  For stubborn weakness

  Unconsonant with your tenderness.

  O, to be patient

  As you would have me patient:

  Patient for a thousand nights, patient!


  No lover ever found a cure for love

  Except so cruel a thrust under the heart

  (By her own hand delivered)

  His wound was nine long years in healing,

  Purulent with dead hope,

  And ached yet longer at the moon’s changes…

  More tolerable the infection than its cure.


  I awoke in profuse sweat, arms aching,

  Knees bruised and soles cut to the r
aw –

  Preserved no memory of that night

  But whipcracks and my own voice screaming.

  Through what wild, flinty wastes of fury,

  Hag of the Mill,

  Did you ride your madman?


  Never forget who brings the rain

  In swarthy goatskin bags from a far sea:

  It is the Moon as she turns, repairing

  Damages of long drought and sunstroke.

  Never count upon rain, never foretell it,

  For no power can bring rain

  Except the Moon as she turns; and who can rule her?

  She is prone to delay the necessary floods,

  Lest such a gift might become obligation,

  A month, or two, or three; then suddenly

  Not relenting but by way of whim

  Will perhaps conjure from the cloudless west

  A single rain-drop to surprise with hope

  Each haggard, upturned face.

  Were the Moon a Sun, we would count upon her

  To bring rain seasonably as she turned;

  Yet no one thinks to thank the regular Sun

  For shining fierce in summer, mild in winter –

  Why should the Moon so drudge?

  But if one night she brings us, as she turns,

  Soft, steady, even, copious rain

  That harms no leaf nor flower, but gently falls

  Hour after hour, sinking to the tap roots,

  And the sodden earth exhales at dawn

  A long sigh scented with pure gratitude,

  Such rain – the first rain of our lives, it seems,

  Neither foretold, cajoled, nor counted on –

  Is woman giving as she loves.


  Every woman of true royalty owns

  A secret land more real to her

  Than this pale outer world:

  At midnight when the house falls quiet

  She lays aside needle or book

  And visits it unseen.

  Shutting her eyes, she improvises

  A five-barred gate among tall birches,

  Vaults over, takes possession.

  Then runs, or flies, or mounts a horse

  (A horse will canter up to greet her)

  And travels where she will;

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