Robert Graves

Immerse yourself in the fascinating life of Robert Graves (1895-1985), a literary genius whose talent knew no bounds. With an illustrious career spanning decades, Graves penned numerous poems and books, leaving an indelible mark on the literary world. From the captivating chronicles of his life and experiences detailed in his biography, to the enigma surrounding his cause of death, the story of Robert Graves is as intriguing and captivating as the myriad of characters he created. Let's take a look at Robert Graves's life and death, poetry, and books. 

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Table of contents

    Robert Graves's life

    Robert Graves 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's Biography
    Birth:24th July 1895
    Death:7th December 1985
    Father:Alfred Perceval Graves
    Mother:Amalie Elizabeth Sophie von Ranke
    Spouse/Partners:Nancy Nicolson (m. 1918-1949). Beryl Hodge (m.1950-1985)
    Cause of Death: Heart failure
    Famous Works:
    • Goodbye to All That
    • I, Claudius
    • Count Belisarius
    • The White Goddess
    Literary Period:Modernism

    Robert Graves was born on the 24th of 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. 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 from war

    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.


    Robert Graves was a 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.

    Robert Graves's cause of death

    Renowned English poet and novelist Robert Graves passed away on 7th December 1985 at the age of 90. His cause of death was reported as heart failure. Graves' literary legacy, marked by his exceptional contributions to poetry and historical fiction, continues to live on, influencing generations of readers and writers alike. He is buried in the churchyard of Deia Church, in Majorca, Spain.

    Robert Graves, Portrait, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Robert Graves's fictional and poetic works such as I, Claudius have never been out of print.

    Robert Graves's poems

    Robert Graves wrote poetry as well as novels. His first poetry collection was Over the Brazier which was published in 1916. Other collections included Love Respelt (1966), The Poems of Robert Graves (1958), and Fairies and Fusiliers (1918).

    'The Narrow Sea'

    'The Narrow Sea' is a fragmented poem that is set in a maritime backdrop, where 'the narrow sea' symbolises physical and metaphorical separations. Graves, known for his vivid portrayals and emotive language, weaves a narrative that touches upon themes of longing, distance, and the human relationship with nature.

    With you for mast and sail and flag,

    And anchor never known to drag,

    Death's narrow but oppressive sea

    Looks not unnavigable to me.

    '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 the 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's books

    Robert Graves was a prolific writer who authored a vast array of novels, non-fiction works, and collections of poetry. Some of his most notable books include:

    • I, Claudius
    • Claudius the God
    • Goodbye to All That
    • The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth
    • Count Belisarius
    • The Greek Myths
    • King Jesus
    • Hercules, My Shipmate

    Each of these works reflects Graves' unique narrative style, his deep understanding of historical and mythological subjects, and his ability to weave compelling stories

    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 again. (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 disentangled. (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 telling. (Introduction)

    Robert Graves: Key takeaways

    • Robert Graves was an English poet and novelist born on the 24th July 1895 in Wimbledon, Surrey, England.
    • He enlisted in World War I in 1914, and served as a junior officer where he met and befriended fellow soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon on the Western Front in 1915.
    • During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Robert 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 and is buried in the churchyard of Deia Church, in Majorca, Spain.
    • Robert Graves's best-known works are I, Claudius (1934), Goodbye to All That (1929), and The White Goddess (1948).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Robert Graves

    Who did Robert Graves serve with? 

    Robert Graves served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers during World War I along with fellow poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon.

    Did Robert Graves achieve his purpose? 

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

    What is Robert Graves most famous poem? 

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

    How did Robert Graves die? 

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

    Who is Robert Graves? 

    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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