Robert Graves: The Alchemy of Poetry

OIP (4)

As the poet-scholar, Robert Graves, once said of the Ollaves of Ireland, their Memory not Consciousness was the great burden of time. To remember the long tragic history of a people is to know the darkening of pain and suffering, the burden of song and wisdom which sustains as it corrupts and transfigures.

Ireland went by, and went by as I saw her
When last I saw her for the first time
Exactly how I had seen her all the time.

—Robert Graves. The Complete

“European poetic lore is, indeed, ultimately based on magical principles, the rudiments of which formed a close religious secret for centuries but which were at last garbled, discredited and forgotten. Now it is only by rare accidents of spiritual regression that poets make their lines magically potent in the ancient sense. Otherwise, the contemporary practice of poem-writing recalls the mediaeval alchemist’s fantastic and foredoomed experiments in transmuting base metal into gold; except that the alchemist did at least recognize pure gold when he saw and handled it. The truth is that only gold ore can be turned into gold; only poetry into poems.”

—Robert Graves,The White Goddess

In the last sad watches of night
Hardly a sliver of light will remain
To edge the guilty shadow of a waned moon
That dawn must soon devour.

—Robert Graves. The Complete Poems