Robert Graves is not modern. He’s better than that, and worse: an Edwardian born out of time, a war poet, and more known now for his potboiler series of Claudius novels that fed his household. He is now almost as unfashionable as his contemporary Eliot, but he’s an honest craftsman, though pagan. He despised fashion, and anyone who is of that ilk is worth repeating.
Besides, no one remembers the critics or English Dons, unless (like Eliot, Pound, Lewis and Tolkien) they are also poets.
The great sun sinks behind the town
Through a red mist of Volnay wine . . . .
But what’s the use of setting down
That glorious blaze behind the town?
You’ll only skip the page, you’ll look
For newer pictures in this book;
You’ve read of sunsets rich as mine.
A fresh wind fills the evening air
With horrid crying of night birds . . . .
But what reads new or curious there
When cold winds fly across the air?
You’ll only frown; you’ll turn the page,
But find no glimpse of your ‘New Age
Of Poetry’ in my worn-out words.
Must winds that cut like blades of steel
And sunsets swimming in Volnay,
The holiest, cruellest pains I feel,
Die stillborn, because old men squeal
For something new: ‘Write something new:
We’ve read this poem – that one too,
And twelve more like ’em yesterday’?
No, no! my chicken, I shall scrawl
Just what I fancy as I strike it,
Fairies and Fusiliers, and all.
Old broken knock-kneed thought will crawl
Across my verse in the classic way.
And, sir, be careful what you say;
There are old-fashioned folk still like it.