a letter by Robert Graves

I was looking up some information about the poet Robert Graves and his attitudes about Americans — trying to get a sense of it for a scene I’m working on.  Anyway, although it had nothing to do much with my book, I ran across this funny letter that Graves wrote to Commentary magazine in protest of an article about him.  I get a kick out of Graves.


Robert Graves Demurs

(the November 1956 issue of Commentary magazine)

To the Editor:

Gratified as I am by being considered worthy of a profile in Commentary, I find that Mr. Arnold Sherman has made a number of misstatements which greatly embarrass me. Here are a few:

1) He did not accidentally meet me on a beach. He first came knocking at my door, without an introduction, and asked for a brief interview for a local Palma paper. I gave it to him, telling him just what to say. He printed it, and that was that. I gave him no authority to publish an interview in the U. S.

2) My only comment on American swimmers was that most of them like the water warmer than it ever gets in Britain; hence on cold days one can distinguish Americans from British.

3) I did not dive into the Mediterranean on the beach where we afterwards met. The water there is only about a foot deep for some twenty yards out.

4) I do not stack my books several feet high in my study nor do I litter the floor with magazines. I have bookshelves like everyone else, and keep things as tidy as I can.

5) The subjects of my books “range from the life of Jesus to the reign of Claudius,” do they? Not a very extensive range, since the two men were close contemporaries.

6) I have brought up eight children, but only four in Majorca.

7) I do not translate obscure Latin treatises. Lucan’s Pharsalia and Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars, which will soon be on sale in the U.S.A., are neither treatises nor obscure.

8) I am not convinced that my poetry will endure, and never said so; and am not interested in posterity anyhow, as I have specifically recorded.

9) My remarks on Dylan Thomas, Eliot, and Pound have been printed accurately in The Crowning Privilege. I repudiate MT. Sherman’s version in toto.

10) I do not claim to be a scholar in any language.

11) I do not believe that I am the best living writer today, and will punch anyone’s nose who says either that I am, or that I claim to be.

12) I did not say that I bad the misfortune of visiting America. I said that while in America in 1938 I lost a lot of weight and a lot of money. It was a most important experience, which I would not have missed for anything.

13) There are no American writers seeded in my village “who write under my tutelage” and I never said there were.

14) I never said that my White Goddess is “illuminating and suggestive.” I never use either adjective.

15) I did not say more about Negroes than that I particularly liked two American Negroes who had come to Majorca: Alston Anderson the short-story writer, and Camilla Heron the anthropologist.

16) I did not say that there are parts of Majorca where a Jew cannot buy land. I may have said that no foreigner can buy land within five kilometers of the sea, without special permission—even Jews.

17) My children are learning Latin and French, not Greek.

18) I do not think that “women are the bane of the world”; but I do think that amateur journalists are.

19) Alec Guinness has not been hired for the leading role in a screen version of my I Claudius. It is not even sure Whether the picture will be made.

20) I did not say that Majorca has no tradition of art: it has a long and magnificent one.

21) I have written about thirty books in Deyá, not ninety; ninety is the grand total.

22) I did not meet Ezra Pound at a dinner; I met him in Colonel T. E. Lawrence’s rooms at All Souls College, Oxford. Lawrence’s sensible introduction was: “Graves, Pound; Pound, Graves. You’ll dislike each other.”

23) I did not say that American literary life is “unimaginatively dull and unproductive.” It is certainly far from being either.

24) My wife has never said: “Robert, will you do nothing today?” On the contrary, she is always trying to persuade me that I am overworking. On the occasion quoted she may have foreseen, with her usual intuition, that Arnold Sherman’s visit was going to do me no good in either the short or the long run. . . .

Finally, I must confess that Mr. Sherman is a nice guy and that I am sure he has not injured me on purpose; but his study of Oriental philosophy and his natural reluctance to face hard facts have combined to produce a caricature of me which, I fear, only my friends will recognize as irresponsible and absurd.

Robert Graves
Deyá, Majorca, Spain