Collected Talks And Essays.
Some time ago in The New York Review, Robert Mazzocco wrote that "if it is true Graves won't suffer fools gladly, it is even truer he suffers his betters not at all. His betters represent modernism, a bete noire." Naturally, Graves comes down hardest on his competitors, and in that notoriously cranky lecture, "These Be Your Gods, O Israel!" delivered at Oxford during the mid-Fifties, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Auden, and Dylan Thomas are "unmasked." They represent, for Graves, fashionable poseurs who have never bothered "about the sense" of anything they wrote. Here he is scuttling Thomas: "I do not mean that he aimed deliberately off-target, as the later Yeats did. Thomas seems to have decided that there was no need to aim at all, so long as the explosion sounded loud enough." Graves' wit has always been chilly, but the elegance and forked gaiety which accompanies it in the poetry and which is so suitable to the patrician romanticist he is, has an off-putting effect in his essays. Discussing literary topics or techniques (the genesis of the word "baraka," for instance, or the "misdirections" of Keats, the "incoherences" of Blake: "Angels were thick on Blake's staircase: some divinely eloquent, some mouthing nonsense"), Graves usually gives the impression of speaking ex cathedra. Often you can cut the pedantry with a knife, and the opinions offered, when not consciously startling, rest on rationalist touchstones (the force inspiring poets is "love, controlled by reason") which are natty platitudes. Still, this is largely a fault of style or tone: beneath the magisterial bitchiness lies a very real attachment to art and craft.