The Poetic Muse

The White Goddess

I suspect most people are more familiar with the poet, Robert Graves, through the successful BBC television series, I, Claudius than for his poetry (he earned his daily bread from his prose work which allowed him the time for his poetry).  Just ask a friend if they can name a poem or two of his.    Even his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, is more about Graves the captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who became shell-shocked during the first World War than about Graves the poet.

He also produced a rather obscure, somewhat hard to find, semi-academic work with the politically incorrect title of The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Origin.  The White Goddess, according to Graves, is the earliest European deity represented by the new, full and old moon, who became the nine-fold Muse of poetry.  The worship of this goddess (and her son) was expressed in the language of myth which is (again, according to Graves) based on a few “simple, magical formulas” known only to a few initiates who have closely guarded them throughout the centuries. It is by intuitive use of these formulas that a poet is able to create true poetry.  Graves proposes to have literally deciphered a few of these secrets by using his own cabbalistic methods including assigning letters of the alphabet to specific digits of each finger (think Da Vinci Code Meets the Cabbala).

All this comes across as a whole lot of blarney, as a good Irishman might say, and should rightfully be taken with a grain or two of salt.  But what Robert Graves has reminded us, whether we agree with his arguments or not, is that poetry at one time did indeed possess magic and power–traces of which can be found in the great poetry of the past and which can still occasionally be glimpsed in the poetry of the present.

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About poeticmeditations

A 19th-century romantic poet trying to get by in the 21st-century.
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