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Thief -- Robert Graves

Guest poem submitted by Ian Shields :
(Poem #1525) Thief
 To the galleys, thief, and sweat your soul out
 With strong tugging under the curled whips,
 That there your thievishness may find full play.
 Whereas, before, you stole rings, flowers and watches,
 Oaths, jests and proverbs,
 Yet paid for bed and board like an honest man,
 This shall be entire thiefdom: you shall steal
 Sleep from chain-galling, diet from sour crusts,
 Comradeship from the damned, the ten-year-chained-
 And, more than this, the excuse for life itself
 From a craft steered toward battles not your own.
-- Robert Graves
        From 'Collected Poems', 1959.

This well fits the "poet cranky" theme. Graves, like Patrick O'Kelly (see
Poem #266) appears to have been the victim of a thief, dipped his pen in
venom, and engaged in a cathartically poetic exercise. It has been said, "a
conservative is a liberal who has been mugged". I am a clinical psychologist
who deals exclusively with juvenile delinquents (mostly car thieves and
burglars) in a clinic for the morally challenged (i.e., the county jail). As
such, I cannot indulge myself in angry outbursts against the outrages of my
clients; it wouldn't promote good therapeutic rapport. An occasional rant
like Graves', however, is good for the psyche and soul.

Dr. Ian Shields
Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

13 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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MotMista said...

I am amazed how completely you misread these lines! The thief is Graves himself. All kinds of metaphorical ambiguities within this slender, witty and lucid poem substantiate this.

Just consider that the "galleys" to which the thief is sentenced are, on one level, the typeset draft copies of his writing awaiting toilsome revision [I know, a majority of those alive lack any concept of "typeset draft copies" far less of a galley as anything but an ancient rowboat. But I'll leave that be.]

For another, simpler, freighted image: the "craft" in the poem's final line is again not merely a seafaring conveyance but the very endeavour and vocation to which Graves as both magistrate and convict is consigning himself with the poem's stern verdict – which is for life. [!mm Le MotMista.]

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