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Terreson Profile
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Graves and Riding


I found this by accident while looking for a Graves poem.

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I know the case well. Know the poetry of both, know Graves's The White Goddess thesis inside and out, know the narrative of their time together, know the biography of each. This is stuff I've thought about for a long time, since, fascinating. I would not question that Graves took from Laura Riding. She was a seminal thinker and a huge influence on both sides of the Atlantic. It is likely, for example, she influenced the so-called Cambridge school of lit crit. In America she influenced, impacted the Fugitive poets and, by extension, the New Criticism school of lit crit. No question about any of this.

She was also a knock down !@#$ capable of extreme outrage in her behavior. Article says the Graves/Riding relationship broke down in '39. To say the least that is glib. While still together she sexually cut him off while he continued to pay their bills. She forced him to look on during two different affairs, after one of which she attempted suicide and Graves nursed her through her recovery. In '39 the relationship didn't just break down. She broke it without compunction. They were staying with a family in America, in New Jersey I think. Jackson was the man's name, a poetry critic for Time magazine. Laura took him in his home, behind the library's closed door, while his wife, children, other guests, and Graves waited. When she emerged from the room she announced "Schuyler and I do." Family's life was torn apart. Jackson's then wife committed to a mental institute.

None of this has anything to do with the possible theft of intellectual property. It is enough, however, to bring motive into question. Riding became a pretty bitter woman. Bitter enough to renounce poetry itself as incapable of attaining, or containing, truth. Jackson, her new husband, proved to be a second-rate poet and a man, as I read the case, Laura could control, not feel threatened by. Also, Graves and Riding had worked intimately together over the 10 year span of their relationship. On ideas, on poetry, on their small press, on their property Graves bought on the island of Mallorca. How to untangle who thought what first would be impossible to ascertain.

What I think likely is that Graves took ideas incited by Laura and developed them in a way and in directions she was incapable of pursueing. Also, once finally over Laura, Graves married again. The woman, Berryl Hodges, had been at the Jackson farm house too in '39. Afterwards they took up together. Of the 3 main women, I think the only women, in his life, she was the only one to keep steady and firm and straight with Graves. His first wife, Nancy Nicholson, had caused him much grief. Not her fault really. By nature she was a warrior woman, a feminist, who hadn't intended to marry a man, have children, become a domestic. She too Graves had seen through bad times and dark days while caring for their children alone. Here is the kicker. Graves took up with two extremely demanding women after 4 years spent in WW1. In the trenches, set aside as dead after the Battle of the Somme. He suffered from shell shock, PTSD, for something in the neighborhood of 30 years. His nerves were shot. A circumstance I can relate to now.

You bet Graves took from Riding. But not in how she came to view the case. He also became the greatest lyric poet working in English of the century. Not my assessment but Auden's.

I've thought about this stuff hard and for my own personal reasons. I'm inclined to dismiss Riding's complaint. Not as a fabrication. But as the resentment of a poet who herself became second rate while a former lover fully developed himself in both poetry and thought.

Tere
Mar/10/2013, 4:00 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Graves and Riding


So I was searching the internet for a Graves poem called "Beware Madam." Guess where the search took me? Back here. In '09 we had an involved discussion, mostly about Plath and Hughes. Thread is called 'Plath in Performance.' It's in the Spoken Word forum. I had forgotten. Exchange got extended without getting acrimonious. If anyone is interested it is well worth the time. But here is the Graves poem.

Beware, Madam!

Beware, madam, of the witty devil,
The arch intriguer who walks disguised
In a poet's cloak, his gay tongue oozing evil.

Would you be a Muse? He will so declare you,
Pledging his blind allegiance,
Yet remain secret and uncommitted.

Poets are men: are single-hearted lovers
Who adore and trust beyond all reason,
Who die honourably at the gates of hell.

The Muse alone is licensed to do murder
And to betray: weeping with honest tears
She thrones each victim in her paradise.

But from this Muse the devil borrows an art
That ill becomes a man. Beware, madam:
He plots to strip you bare of woman-pride.

He is capable of seducing your twin sister
On the same pillow, and neither she nor you
Will suspect the act, so close a glamour he sheds.

Alas, being honourably single-hearted,
You adore and trust beyond all reason,
Being no more a Muse than he a poet.

(Poem by Robert Graves)

That is a hell of a poem. Original in conception, lyrical, cogent, pointed in its intellectual honesty. And it certainly is no revenge poem. Its subject, of course, being Riding. Said again, Graves took from Riding when working out his White Goddess thesis. He himself said so, not by way of an admission but in the spirit of giving her credit for inciting the work. But there is more. From America Graves returned to Britain where he stayed for the duration of the war. He traveled by way of a convoy in, I think, 1940 when, because of German U boats, it couldn't have been more dangerous. He easily could have stayed in America, already having achieved some notoriety for his authobiographical Goodby to All That. The point cannot be proven, but I am persuaded he meant his big book as an antidote to the falling down of civilization, the catastrophe of "worm-eaten states," using a phrase borrowed from Van Gogh. He was looking to show a way out of the modern catastrophe, which led him back to pre-Christian fertility practices as, in his view, they involved poets, poetry, Muses, and the triple faced White Goddess. This is not the work of a plagiarist, nor of a thief of intellectual property. Especially, since, without the right orientation, and without a pronounced facility for associative thinking, it is impossible to comprehend. Nobody but Graves could have written it. Nobody but him could have made the associative connections he made. Riding was incisive, even brilliant at times in her thinking. But she did not have the grounding he had in ancient Hebrew literature or in Classical Mediterranean studies. She had not spent the years he spent in the study. Also, Graves's father was not only Irish but, in his day, a well thought of poet. At an early age Graves was grounded in ancient Gaelic literature, particularly that of the Welsh.

I've read Riding's prose, at least a sampling of it. It is original, but it has no depth. It can be incisive, but lacking in gravitas. Stylisticly she was a bit stuck on herself in the way poets can be when too needy to stand out by striking a certain pose. That is a fair assessment. Nor did she show the need to work at writing. Not in the way it takes to put out word upon word, sentence after sentence, in order both to get it right and get it down. No. This charge leveed by her against Graves and, I gather, carried over by an English professor is trumped up.

Reading through the Plath thread from '09 I came across something I had forgotten about. I have never been able to find someone with whom I could discuss Graves's thesis. No writer, no litterateur, no critic, no professor. One Shakespeare scholar saw it on my desk once and damn near ran away. Guess I'm running in the wrong circles. But the thread reminded me that poets of Plath's generation not only read the work but had something of a religious experience because of it. At least some of them. Hughes introduced the study to Plath. They were both influenced by it. And they may have taken it too personally, especially the poet/muse dynamic, with disastrous consequences on their own dynamic. Graves was right, you know. "Being no more a muse than he is a poet."

Tere
Mar/10/2013, 9:33 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Graves and Riding


Hi Tere,

I don't know much about Graves or Riding, but I came across these two articles on Riding and thought they might be of interest to you:

Laura (Riding) Jackson: Against the Commodity of the Poem (part 1)

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Laura (Riding) Jackson: Against the Commodity of the Poem (part 2)

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Mar/13/2014, 7:50 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Graves and Riding


Thanks, Kat. Read both parts. The essay points to why Jackson ultimately rejected poetry. As inadequate to, what for her, was truth.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Mar/15/2014, 1:41 pm
Mar/15/2014, 12:51 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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