The poetry of Robert Graves 1914-1946
The thesis argues that between the years 1914 and 1946 Robert Graves developed a concept of poetry which was to a large extent defined by his ideological attitude to the society or 'age' in which he lived, and further argues that this had significant consequences for the poetry he wrote during the period. The thesis argues that Graves's ideas on poetry were particularly influenced by two major experiences: his active service in France during the First World War, and his thirteen year 'literary partnership' with the American poet Laura Riding. It considers the nature of these experiences, and analyses Graves's poetic response to them. The thesis attempts to show the importance of the post-war 'reconstruction' as one of the principal themes of his poetry, and in considering those poems contingent on the personal aesthetic established in The White Goddess, argues that this aesthetic was a response to, and rationalisation of, his experience in the war, his sense of disorientation and alienation in a post-war society he considered hostile to his view of poetry, and his relationship with Riding. The thesis shows that Graves's vision of poetry after the war was as a form of 'representative spokesmanship' for the age in which the poet lived, but that as a consequence of a sense of alienation and his acceptance of the views of Riding, he rejected this concept. Instead he sought an 'independence' from his age and attempted to redefine his personal identity in relation to his social environment. Poetry was no longer simply a means of responding to experience, but was itself 'the good experience', by which the individual poet sought 'self-illumination' and 'personal truth'. The use of poetry as a tool for seeking an awareness of the self led to a compositional technique in which ideas and phrases were worked through various drafts of 'secondary elaboration', and the thesis makes considerable use of Graves's worksheets to examine this process and gain an insight into the thinking behind an often cryptic poetry. Graves's emphasis on poetry as a form of 'spiritual autobiography' produced a body of work which by its nature requires the reader to engage with the biographical context of the poems if he or she is to understand their meaning fully and the thesis therefore draws on recently available material to establish this context.