Each month we are celebrating one fantastic Seren author in honour of Wales’ Year of Legends. This month the spotlight falls on Robert Graves.
Robert Graves began publishing poetry after the outbreak of the First World War, for which he enlisted in 1914 as a junior officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He was one of the first to write realistic poems about the experience of fighting on the frontline. His first volume, Over the Brazier, was published in 1916, and by 1917 he had produced two further collections of war poetry whilst still on active service. Over the Brazier and Fairies and Fusiliers earned for Graves the reputation of an accomplished war poet.
You can find all Graves’ war poetry in recently published Robert Graves: War Poems (Seren, 2016).
During his lifetime Graves published more than 140 books, including fifty-five collections of poetry (he reworked his Collected Poems repeatedly during his career), fifteen novels, ten translations, and forty works of non-fiction, autobiography, and literary essays. His best known works are his memoir of World War One, Goodbye to All That, The White Goddess, and the novels I, Claudius and Claudius the Great.
Here is Graves’ poem, ‘Hate Not, Fear Not’, from his previously unpublished collection The Patchwork Flag (1918) which, almost a century after composition, has now been brought into print as part of Robert Graves: War Poems.
Robert Graves: War Poems is available from our website: £19.99
Find a great selection of books by our other legendary writers on the Year of Legends page.
And don’t forget to sign up to our free, no-purchase-necessary Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.
This week’s Friday Poem is Tony Curtis’ Arvon Prize-shortlisted ‘Soup’.
This is one of many poems on the subject of conflict in Tony’s War Voices (1995) and will also feature in the soon-to-be published From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, out in October this year. Wednesday 27th January was Holocaust Remembrance Day and so this poem is an especially poignant choice.
One night our block leader set a competition:
two bowls of soup to the best teller of a tale.
That whole evening the hut filled with words –
tales from the old countries
of wolves and children
potions and love-sick herders
stupid woodsmen and crafty villagers.
Apple-blossom snowed from blue skies,
orphans discovered themselves royal.
Tales of greed and heroes and cunning survival,
soldiers of the Empires, the Church, the Reich.
And when they turned to me
I could not speak,
sunk in the horror of that place,
my throat a corridor of bones, my eyes
and nostrils clogged with self-pity.
‘Speak,’ they said, ‘everyone has a story to tell.’
And so I closed my eyes and said:
I have no hunger for your bowls of soup, you see
I have just risen from the Shabbat meal –
my father has filled our glasses with wine,
bread has been broken, the maid has served fish.
Grandfather has sung, tears in his eyes, the old songs.
My mother holds her glass by the stem, lifts
it to her mouth, the red glow reflecting on her throat.
I go to her side and she kisses me for bed.
My grandfather’s kiss is rough and soft like an apricot.
The sheets on my bed are crisp and flat
like the leaves of a book …
I carried my prizes back to my bunk: one bowl
I hid, the other I stirred
and smelt a long time, so long
that it filled the cauldron of my head,
drowning a family of memories.
Buy War Voices from our website, and look out for From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, available October 2016.
This week’s poem is from Alun Lewis: Collected Poems, edited by Cary Archard, to celebrate Lewis’s centenary earlier this week. Lewis was one of the most compelling writers of the Second World War, whose premature death in 1944 – when he was only 28 – was a grave loss to Britain’s literature community.
For more information about Lewis, check out his website and find out everything you need to know about the continuing centenary celebrations on Twitter.
In Hospital: Poona
Last night I did not fight for sleep
But lay awake from midnight while the world
Turned its slow features to the moving deep
Of darkness, till I knew that you were furled,
Beloved, in the same dark watch as I.
And sixty degrees of longitude beside
Vanished as though a swan in ecstasy
Had spanned the distance from your sleeping side.
And like to swan or moon the whole of Wales
Glided within the parish of my care:
I saw the green tide leap on Cardigan,
Your red yacht riding like a legend there,
And the great mountains, Dafydd and Llewelyn,
Plynlimmon, Cader Idris and Eryri
Threshing the darkness back from head and fin,
And also the small nameless mining valley
Whose slopes are scratched with streets and
Dark in the lap of firwoods and great boulders
Where you lay waiting, listening to the waves-
My hot hands touched your white despondent shoulders
– And then ten thousand miles of daylight grew
Between us, and I heard the wild daws crake
In India’s starving throat; whereat I knew
That Time upon the heart can break
But love survives the venom of the snake.
Order Alun Lewis: Collected Poems from our website.