Sunday, July 09, 2006

White Goddess, Green Eyes

Don't you just love it when poets get peevish?

Take Robert Graves. At some point, some woman (I'm guessing it must have been Laura Riding, though I'm not sure) goes and leaves him to marry some other guy. So what does Graves do? He goes ahead and writes a whole bunch of poems about how women hook up with undeserving men.

First we get this:

Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel
On whom she can rely
To pay her cab-fare, run a steaming bath,
Poultice her bruised eye;

Will not at first, whether for shame or caution,
Her difficulty disclose;
Until he draws a cheque book from his plumage,
Asking how much she owes;

(Breakfast in bed: coffee and marmalade,
Toasts, eggs, orange-juice,
After a long, sound sleep - the first since when? -
And no word of abuse.)

Loves him less than only her saint-like mother,
Promises to repay
His loans and most seraphic thoughtfulness
A million-fold one day.

Beauty grows plump, renews her broken courage
And, borrowing ink and pen,
Writes a news-letter to the evil angel
(Her first gay act since when?):

The fiend who beats, betrays and sponges on her,
Persuades her white is black,
Flaunts verpertilian wings and cloven hoof;
And soon will fetch her back.

Virtue, good angel, is its own reward:
Your guineas were well spent.
But would you to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediment?

- 'Beauty in Trouble'
(As an aside, do you think we'll ever be able to read the word gay in its original sense again?)

Next Graves writes:

A perverse habit of cat-goddesses -
Even the blackest of them, black as coals
Save for a new moon blazing on each breast,
With coral tongues and beryl eyes like lamps,
Long-legged, pacing three by three in nines -
This obstinate habit is to yield themselves,
In verisimilar love-ecstasies,
To tatter-eared and slinking alley-toms
No less below the common run of cats
Than they above it; which they do not for spite,
To provoke jealousy - not the least abashed
By such gross-headed, rabbit coloured litters
As soon they shall be happy to desert.

- 'Cat-goddesses'
And finally, just in case that was too subtle for you:

Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.

Repeat 'impossible men': not merely rustic
Foul-tempered or depraved
(Dramatic foils chosen to show the world
How well women behave, and always have behaved).

Impossible men: idle, illiterate,
Self-pitying, dirty, sly,
For whose appearance even in City parks
Excuses must be made to casual passers-by.

Has God's supply of tolerable husbands
Fallen, in fact, so low?
Or do I always over-value woman
At the expense of man?
Do I?
It might be so.

- 'A Slice of Wedding Cake'

Phew! Talk about Petulant Pterodactyls.

On a separate note, we're thinking about running a series of poetry by people better known for their prose over at Poi-tre. Trouble is, there's a whole bunch of people on the cusp about whom I can't make up my mind. So I'm leaving it open to readers of this blog. What would you say would be the primary classification of each of the people listed below - Poet / Prose Writer:

1. Robert Graves
2. Jorge Luis Borges
3. Thomas Hardy
4. Rudyard Kipling
5. Lewis Carroll


Aishwarya said...

I would classify all of them except Borges as primarily prose writers, but that's partly because compared to the amount of prose I read I have hardly read any poetry.

[Borges's prose IS poetry. ;)]

Cheshire Cat said...

I'd say Borges and Kipling are the ones who did their best work in prose, but all except Graves are better known for their prose than for their poetry.

Sony Pony said...

My two-paisa worth (after inflation):
I know next to little-bit about poetry, so this will be like a word-association sort of thing:)

1. Robert Graves- poetry
2. Jorge Luis Borges- prose
3. Thomas Hardy-who?
4. Rudyard Kipling-Kipling wrote poetry?
5. Lewis Carroll-poetry

Falstaff said...

All: Thanks.

Aishwarya: :-). Did you happen to catch the discussion on Borges' prose / poetry on Chandrahas' blog:

Cat: Agree with you on Borges and on Kipling. Personally, I like Graves
prose better than his poetry, which is why I guess I tend to think of him as a prose writer. Ah, well.

Sony Pony: Lewis Carroll - poetry? really? Interesting.

And yes, Kipling did write poetry. Go here and scroll down.

They have some 26 poems by Kipling. Personally, I think they're overdoing it, but each to his own.

Swathi said...

would love to see Poe in the list :)

Aishwarya said...

Yep, I remember reading that and agreeing with you. I love both Borges's short stories and his poems, but the short stories have meant a lot more to me. Still, I stand by my statement that his prose writing is poetry.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Borges and Hardy feature in just about any anthology of poetry.

Kipling's "If" is, by many estimates, the most "recited" and reprinted poem in the world (though I don't like it much, the Barrack-Room Ballads are generally better.)

Better known for their prose than their poetry? Well, Carroll, yes ... "you grow old, Father William".



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