War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Notes from PhD Land - a day with Robert Graves

spent the day in the UVic SpeColl with Robert Graves. diaries. letters to a lover, a Miss Cindy Lee a.k.a. Emile Larançuen, a.k.a. Aemelia. the latter letters just open to scholars in the past 6 months on the request of Beryl Graves, his “long suffering wife” (really?).

and often there is a frisson upon handling original, that is, primary materials. Edward Thomas’s diary from the Front for example… I had the chance to unwrap it, in private, smell the pipe smoke of 100 years, see the ink splotches, perhaps from the percussion of the shell that stilled his heart (for he wasn’t hit, but had a heart attack a doctor friend of mine believes), that killed him.

I looked through Graves’s 1935 diaries. curious things. not bound moleskine-type books as one might expect, but rather, sheaves of unlined paper folded in half and made into a de facto book, but with no staples, no sewn bindings. home made. eccentric. utilitarian. cheap (?) he was, after all, supporting 15 family members at one time (but perhaps that was later).

his letters are curious things. for one, he tends to write in a short poem-like lines, though clearly it is prose and unintended to be poetry. his letters to Cindy Lee frequently have tiny entwined rings with the initials R/E beside them. in one of his letters to her he draws a few daisy-like flowers and has spilled red sealing wax into their centres. I only read a few dozen of these letters and spent most of my time with his 1935 diaries, of his time with Laura Riding.

now I cannot pretend to be a Laura Riding expert, nor a Gravesian, but what I observe in these diaries is a true affection for her. the diaries are filled with tiny gestures of love from Graves to Riding. one in particular strikes me, and that is a few lines in which Graves writes of walking to the sea and returning with a bouquet of rosemary in flower “for Laura’s table”. now anyone who has been in love, or who has been loved, will be able to see that this is one of those tiny gestures that is not crazy-passionate, but is rather, a kindness, a thoughtfulness, a hallmark of genuine affection and love. a fistful of rosemary in bloom is not a grand gesture, it is quotidian. and that is true love.

never mind that Riding jumped out of a window ten years earlier. never mind that Graves followed her out another window (albeit not so high off the ground). the diary entries today were filled with these little gestures (a silk dress for Xmas e.g.), almond trees planted. aconites in Laura’s room when she had a fever, to “cool it down”, Graves writes… how lovely, he picked her aconites for her sick room.

oh I’ve read the biographies. Riding gets demonized, denigrated. and I can’t argue the veracity of this or not. but what I do recognize, having read hundreds of pages of his diary of 1935, well into his affair with Riding, was a sense of true affection, courtship, love.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Notes from PhD Land - a day with Robert Graves. It was posted here on August 29, 2013.

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