From cold stones sparks of fire do fly
Notes on Poetry
Friday, October 3, 2014
One of the neglected books published in that momentous year 1922 is Robert Graves' On English Poetry (William Heinemann). From the vantage point of 2014 its 61 short and chatty sections read very like blog posts. Sadly much of this book and much of Graves' Poetic Unreason and other studies (1925, Cecil Palmer) are omitted — following Graves' own later abridgements — from the Collected Writings on Poetry in Carcanet's otherwise wonderful Robert Graves Programme of editions.
Geoffrey Hill in his Oxford Professor of Poetry lecture 'A Deep Dynastic Wound' (30 April 2013) mentions these two early books: "Two of Graves's early prose books ...[he gives the titles and dates] ... I would certainly recommend as required reading for auto-didactic self-apprenticed deeply eccentric young poets." (at 45 min 15 sec)
Hill names three pieces from these books dealing with the task of revision: "Putty" and "Surface Faults, An Illustration" and "Secondary Elaboration." Only the last of these has survived into the Carcanet edition, although somewhat self-referentially this piece both in its original 1925 form and its later much reduced form presented in the Carcanet edition does itself contain a revised and slightly expanded version of "Surface Faults". In "Surface Faults" Graves presents a sequence of pre-publication drafts of a few lines from one of his poems. Here is the whole text as originally presented in the 1922 edition:
"The later drafts of some lines I wrote recently called CYNICS AND ROMANTICS, and contrasting the sophisticated and ingenuous ideas of Love, give a fairly good idea of the conscious process of getting a poem in order. I make no claim for achievement, the process is all that is intended to appear, and three or four lines are enough for illustration:
In club or messroom let them sit, Let them indulge salacious wit On love's romance, but not with hearts Accustomed to those healthier parts Of grim self-mockery ...
2nd Draft: (Consideration:— It is too soon in the poem for the angry jerkiness of "Let them indulge." Also "Indulge salacious" is hard to say; at present, this is a case for being as smooth as possible.)
In club or messroom let them sit, Indulging controversial wit On love's romance, but not with hearts Accustomed ...
3rd Draft. (Consideration:— No, we have the first two lines beginning with "In." It worries the eye. And "sit, indulging" puts two short "i's" close together. "Controversial" is not the word. It sounds as if they were angry, but they are too blasé for that. And "love's romance" is cheap for the poet's own ideal.)
In club or messroom let them sit, At skirmish of salacious wit Laughing at love, yet not with hearts Accustomed ...
4th Draft. (Consideration:— Bother the thing! "Skirmish" is good because it suggests their profession, but now we have three S's — "sit," "skirmish," "salacious." It makes them sound too much in earnest. The "salacious" idea can come in later in the poem. And at present we have two "at's" bumping into each other; one of them must go. "Yet" sounds better than "but" somehow.)
In club or messroom let them sit, With skirmish of destructive wit Laughing at love, yet not with hearts Accustomed ...
5th Draft. (Consideration:—And now we have two "with's" which don't quite correspond. And we have the two short "i's" next to each other again. Well, put the first "at" back and change "laughing at" to "deriding." The long "i" is a pleasant variant; "laughing" and "hearts" have vowel-sounds too much alike.)
In club or messroom let them sit, At skirmish of destructive wit Deriding love, yet not with hearts Accustomed ...
6th Draft. (Consideration:—Yes, that's a bit better. But now we have "destructive" and "deriding" too close together. "Ingenious" is more the word I want. It has a long vowel, and suggests that it was a really witty performance. The two "in's" are far enough separated. "Accorded" is better than "accustomed"; more accurate and sounds better. Now then:—)
In club or messroom let them sit, At skirmish of ingenious wit Deriding love, yet not with hearts Accorded etc.
(Consideration:—It may be rotten, but I've done my best.)"