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Robert Graves

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English Literature

Robert Graves (1895-1985) was an English poet, novelist, critic and scholar who also served as a junior officer in World War I. He was often considered a controversial free thinker, with a passion for poetry. While maintaining his reputation as a social and artistic rebel, Graves was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1968.

Robert Graves' life

Let's take a look at Robert Graves's life and death, poetry, and books.

Before the War

Robert Graves was born on the 24th July 1895 in Wimbledon, Surrey (England) to parents Alfred and Amalie (also known as Amy). He attended public boarding school Charterhouse School, and subsequently was granted a scholarship at St John's College, a constituent of Oxford University.

War begins

Robert Graves did not attend St John's College however, instead enlisting in World War I in 1914. It was in 1915 that he met fellow soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon on the Western Front. Over the years, the two became close friends.

Returning home

In 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, Graves was severely wounded and as a result, and reported dead to his family and friends. However, he was alive and had been sent to Queen Alexandra's Hospital in London (England) to recuperate.

Back on the front lines

In 1917, Graves defended Siegfried Sassoon who was to be tried by a court-martial for being a conscientious objector. Sassoon faced execution, but Graves intervened and explained that Sassoon was experiencing shell-shock. Graves returned to duty in 1917, but suffered from shell-shock himself as a result of his experiences in the War.

Later life

In 1918, Robert Graves married feminist and artist Nancy Nicholson, with whom he had four children. American poet Laura Riding moved in with him and Nancy Nicholson, and Graves soon developed feelings for Riding. In 1929, Laura Riding attempted to commit suicide, and Graves subsequently left Nancy Nicholson to continue living with Riding in Majorca. Graves later remarried Beryl Hodge in 1950, with whom he had another four children. The pair settled and lived the rest of their days in Majorca.

Purpose

Robert Graves was a prolific writer and poet, with a reputation for being a social and artistic rebel. He was often described as a controversial free thinker, who wrote a variety of texts, ranging from scholarly to mythological and historical fiction, to a candid recollection of his own personal life experiences. Many of the poems he wrote both during and after his time in World War I sought to challenge unthinkingly patriotic and ignorant narratives about the War, and to highlight the true, gruesome realities that soldiers had to face.

Cause of death

Robert Graves died on the 7th December 1985 in Majorca, Spain. He is buried in the churchyard of Deia Church, in Majorca, Spain.

Robert Graves Poems

Graves wrote poetry as well as novels.

'A Dead Boche'

In 'A Dead Boche', Robert Graves depicts the stark realities of war, describing a dead 'boche', in other words, a dead German. He creates a shocking and repugnant image in the reader's mind of this dead German soldier, who in his death has been left slumped against a tree. A clear anti-war poem, Graves describes then horrors of war in this poem, and reminds the reader to appreciate his war poetry not as tales of heroism and fame, but as tales of horror and revulsion. Not only this, but 'A Dead Boche' serves as an admonition that war produces nothing but degeneration and decay.

In a great mess of things unclean,

Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk

With clothes and face a sodden green,

Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired

Dribbling black blood from nose and beard (l.8-12)

'Two Fusiliers'

In 'Two Fusiliers', Robert Graves expresses how it felt to have survived and to have reached the end of World War I. He also shows his appreciation for the friendships he forged during this time, and reveals that their experiences as soldiers bound them closely together. In 'Two Fusiliers', he highlights the fact that it was these terrible circumstances of war, and the death that the soldiers were surrounded by that granted them this beautiful and long-lasting friendship.

Show me the two so closely bound

As we, by the wet bond of blood,

By friendship blossoming from mud,

By Death: we faced him, and we found

Beauty in Death,

In dead men, breath. (l.13-18)

Robert Graves Books

What about his books?

Goodbye to All That

Published in 1929, Robert Graves's memoir Goodbye to All That details his life, including his childhood, his perspective on British society, his time in World War I, and finally his relationships and marriage. Goodbye to All That is his farewell to England and to his past, in which he recalls many unhappy memories; for example, being bullied at school, the horrors he experienced in World War I, and his marriage to Nancy Nicholson, which was less than happy. However, it also contains pleasant memories, including the close friendships he forged whilst serving in the War.

[I] resolved never to make England my home again1 (ch.32)

I Claudius

Robert Graves published his historical fiction novel I Claudius in 1934, which explores 1st century Rome. The narrative is written as Claudius' biography, in which Graves explores the decadence and debauchery of the Roman empire. This tale gives readers a unique insight into the madness, violence, and gore of Roman society.

Claudius was the fourth Roman emperor, who ruled from 41 to 54 AD.

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus ... am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never since become disentangled2 (ch.1)

The Greek Myths

Published in 1955, Robert Graves's The Greek Myths provides a comprehensive overview of Greek mythology, including heroes, gods, and an array of other characters. Graves retells and also provides commentary on the classic Greek myths, while also providing detail on the different variations of the myths and their characters, which makes his novel an extraordinary tale for readers, and also a good reference point for scholars who are researching or writing on the topic.

myths, though difficult to reconcile with chronology, are always practical: they insist on some point of tradition, however distorted the meaning may have become in the telling3 (Introduction)

Robert Graves: Key takeaways

  • Graves was born on the 24th July 1895 in Wimbledon, Surrey (England)
  • He was an English poet, novelist, critic and scholar
  • He enlisted in World War I in 1914, and served as a junior officer
  • Graves met and befriended fellow soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon on the Western Front in 1915
  • During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Graves was severely wounded and reported dead to his family and friends. Thankfully, he was actually alive, and was recuperating at Queen Alexandra's Hospital in London (England)
  • He returned to duty in 1917, but suffered from shell-shock as a result of his experiences in the War
  • He died on the 7th December 1985 in Majorca, Spain
  • Robert Graves is buried in the churchyard of Deia Church, in Majorca, Spain.

1. Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That, 2000

2. Robert Graves, I Claudius, 1934

3. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 2017

Robert Graves

Robert Graves enjoyed a successful writing career, and he published over 140 works

Robert Graves served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, along with fellow poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon

One of Robert Graves's most famous poems is 'Two Fusiliers'

Robert Graves died from heart failure on the 7th December 1985 

Robert Graves was an English poet, novelist, critic and scholar who also served as a junior officer in World War I

Final Robert Graves Quiz

Question

Who was Robert Graves?

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Answer

Robert Graves was an English poet, novelist, critic and scholar who also served as a junior officer in World War I 

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Question

How did Robert Graves die?

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Answer

Robert Graves died from heart failure on the 7th December 1985  

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Question

What is Robert Graves's most famous poem?

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Answer

One of Robert Graves's most famous poems is 'Two Fusiliers' 

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Who did Robert Graves serve in the First World War with?

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Answer

Robert Graves served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, along with fellow poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon 

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Did Robert Graves achieve his purpose?

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Answer

Robert Graves enjoyed a successful writing career, and he published over 140 works 

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Where did Robert Graves die?

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Answer

Robert Graves died in Majorca, Spain

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How many children did Robert Graves have?

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Answer

Robert Graves had 8 children

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Where is Robert Graves buried?

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Answer

Robert Graves is buried in the churchyard of Deia Church, in Majorca, Spain 

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What are the names of 3 of Robert Graves's most famous novels?

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Answer

Goodbye to All That, I Claudius, and The Greek Myths

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Why was Robert Graves reported dead in 1916?

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Answer

During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Robert Graves was severely wounded 

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Where was Robert Graves born?

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Answer

Wimbledon, Surrey (England) 

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When did Robert Graves join the First World War?

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Answer

Robert Graves enlisted in World War I in 1914, and served as a junior officer  

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What did Robert Graves suffer from as a result of his experiences in the War?

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Answer

Shell-shock

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Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from?


Show me the two so closely bound

As we, by the wet bond of blood,

By friendship blossoming from mud,

By Death: we faced him, and we found

Beauty in Death,

In dead men, breath. (l.13-18)

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Answer

'Two Fusiliers'

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Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from?


In a great mess of things unclean, 

Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk 

With clothes and face a sodden green, 

Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired 

Dribbling black blood from nose and beard (l.8-12)


Show answer

Answer

'A Dead Boche'

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Where does Good-Bye to All That take place?

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Answer

Goodbye To All That takes place in several locations. Including; Charterhouse School, France in World War One, Wales, Oxford and finally in Cairo Egypt.

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What is the mood of Goodbye To All That?

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The mood of Goodbye To All That is darkly humourous. 

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Why did Robert Graves write Goodbye to all that?

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Graves wrote the book so he could be financially secure enough to emigrate. But also to say goodbye to his youth and an England that no longer existed.

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What is Goodbye To All That about?

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Goodbye To All That is about moving on from one life to another. Whether that is growing up or moving to a different country


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What is the purpose of Goodbye to All That?

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Answer

What is the purpose of Goodbye to All That?

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Which school did Robert Graves attend before the war?

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Answer

Robert Graves attended Charterhouse School before World War One

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Which poet was upset by the depiction of him and his family?

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Answer

Siegfried Sassoon was upset by the depiction of him and his family

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Robert Graves suffered from which condition following the war?

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Answer

Robert Graves suffered from PTSD after the war.

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In what year did Robert Graves revise Goodbye To All That?

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Answer

Robert Graves revised Goodbye To All That in 1957

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Robert Graves emigrated to where after the publication of Goodbye To All That?

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Answer

Robert Graves emigrated to Majorca, Spain shortly after the publication of Goodbye to All That.

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