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Welsh Incident -- Robert Graves

after the Plath, something lighter:
(Poem #55) Welsh Incident
'But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.'
'What were they? Mermaids? dragons? ghosts?'
'Nothing at all of any things like that.'
'What were they, then?'
                                    'All sorts of queer things,
Things never seen or heard or written about,
Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to touch,
Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
All various shapes and sizes, and no sizes,
All new, each perfectly unlike his neighbour,
Though all came moving slowly out together.'
'Describe just one of them.'
                                        'I am unable.'
'What were their colours?'
                                        'Mostly nameless colours,
Colours you'd like to see; but one was puce
Or perhaps more like crimson, but not purplish.
Some had no colour.'
                                'Tell me, had they legs?'
'Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.'
'But did these things come out in any order?'
What o'clock was it? What was the day of the week?
Who else was present? How was the weather?'
'I was coming to that. It was half-past three
On Easter Tuesday last. The sun was shining.
The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog Jesu
On thrity-seven shimmering instruments
Collecting for Caernarvon's (Fever) Hospital Fund.
The populations of Pwllheli, Criccieth,
Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc, Penrhyndeudraeth,
Were all assembled. Criccieth's mayor addressed them
First in good Welsh and then in fluent English,
Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
Welcoming the things. They came out on the sand,
Not keeping time to the band, moving seaward
Silently at a snail's pace. But at last
The most odd, indescribable thing of all
Which hardly one man there could see for wonder
Did something recognizably a something.'
'Well, what?'
                    'It made a noise.'
                                              'A frightening noise?'
'No, no.'
              'A musical noise? A noise of scuffling?'
'No, but a very loud, respectable noise ---
Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning
In Chapel, close before the second psalm.'
'What did the mayor do?'
                                      'I was coming to that.'
-- Robert Graves
There's not a lot I can add to this poem by way of commentary, so I'll
leave it to you as it is. I would like to point out, though, the skill
with which the verse is written - seemingly effortless and utterly
natural.

 t.

Graves, Robert (von Ranke)

 b. July 24/26, 1895, London
 d. Dec. 7, 1985, Dey$B(B, Majorca, Spain

English poet, novelist, critic, and classical scholar who carried on
many of the formal traditions of English verse in a period of
experimentation. His more than 120 books also include a notable
historical novel, I, Claudius (1934); an autobiographical classic of
World War I, Good-Bye to All That (1929; rev. ed. 1957); and erudite,
controversial studies in mythology.

As a student at Charterhouse School, London, young Graves began to write
poetry; he continued this while serving as a British officer at the
western front during World War I, writing three books of verse during
1916-17. The horror of trench warfare was a crucial experience in his
life: he was severely wounded in 1916 and remained deeply troubled by
his war experiences for at least a decade. Graves's mental conflicts
during the 1920s were exacerbated by an increasingly unhappy marriage
that ended in divorce. A new acceptance of his own nature, in which
sexual love and dread seemed to exist in close proximity, appeared in
his verse after he met Laura Riding, an American poet, who accompanied
him to the island of Majorca, Spain, in 1929 and with whom he was
associated for 13 years.

The success of Graves's Good-Bye to All That, war memoirs notable for
their unadorned grimness, enabled him to make his permanent home on
Majorca, an island whose simplicity had not yet been altered by tourism.
Graves's novel I, Claudius is an engaging first-person narrative
purportedly written by the Roman emperor Claudius as he chronicles the
personalities and machinations of the Julio-Claudian line during the
reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. This work was followed by
other historical novels dealing with ancient Mediterranean civilizations
and including Claudius the God (1934), which extends Claudius' narrative
to his own reign as emperor; Count Belisarius (1938), a sympathetic
study of the great and martyred general of the Byzantine Empire; and The
Golden Fleece (1944; U.S. title Hercules, My Shipmate). Graves's
researches for The Golden Fleece led him into a wide-ranging study of
myths and to what was his most controversial scholarly work, The White
Goddess; A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948). In it the author
argues the existence of an all-important religion, rooted in the remote
past but continuing into the Christian Era, based on the worship of a
goddess.

Graves began before 1914 as a typical Georgian poet, but his war
experiences and the difficulties of his personal life gave his later
poetry a much deeper and more painful note. He remained a traditionalist
rather than a modernist, however, in his emphasis on meter and clear
meaning in his verse. Graves's sad love poems are regarded as the finest
produced in the English language during the 20th century, along with
those of W.B. Yeats.

Graves was elected professor of poetry at the University of Oxford in
1961 and served there until 1966. His Collected Poems appeared in 1948,
with revisions in 1955, 1959, 1961, and 1975. His controversial
translation of The Rub$B(Biy$B(Bt of Omar Khayy$B(Bm, with Omar Ali-Shah,
appeared in 1967. His own later views on poetry can be found in The
Crowning Privilege (1955) and Oxford Addresses on Poetry (1962).

- from the ubiquitous Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Paul Prost said...

I was coming to that.

Welsh incident is an insight into the expertise that Graves has in
language, rhythm and no hang ups. (I come from wales) For example -
Goodbye to all that - I was coming to that: it's a case of reflecting
the human condition. Only observe, only connect.

David Dixon said...

I love this poem. I love hearing it to myself in a very musical Welsh
accent. It creates such an impression that the storyteller has a lot of time
on his hands, and that there's really nothing better to do with it than to
spin out this mysterious incident (if indeed it really did happen) into a
gossamer of suggestion and fantasy just to hold his hearer within his spell.
What a contrast is shown between him and the questioner who seems to be
getting ever more frustrated at the seeming inability to give straight
answers to straight questions. To me it is a naughty, mischievous poem,
poking gentle fun at a certain illogicality of outlook which no doubt can be
found anywhere, but which here is inescapably bound up with the Welshness of
the accent.

David Dixon

Jim said...

Without doubt Graves is one of the most flowing poets i`ve ever come accross from the beautiful Warning to Children to this poem, I have to say there is something creepy about it maybe its just me but it feels dark, But i really enjoyed it and love the answer question style cool !

Susan said...

In 1970, I attended school in North Wales as an exchange student and was introduced to this poem. It now comes to mind when I ask a simple question and get a dissertation from my husband. I, too, hear it in the Welsh accent.

Immunization Schedule said...

A post dated back to 1999. It's really nice to read your poem. I think I'm falling in love with your poem. It's expression are priceless!

Baby Clothes said...

I thought it was memorial incident of his life. Your introduction and presentation of this poem is fabulous.

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Graves was elected professor of poetry at the University of Oxford in 1961 and served there until 1966. His collection is really tremendous, i am so glad to have this poetry.

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Hi. This poem has a lot of soul into it. I bet the author of this is at the height of his emotions.

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Hello. I am so through of reading poems. Ever since highschool we were required in our English class to read lots of them.

james said...

I love interesting poems !

elaine day said...

Very funny, amusing, michievous. The "time on ones hand's" quote is pertinent! A brilliant and subtle story! The sort if your lucky u may overhear in a pub whilst relaxing over a drink.

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