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The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth Paperback – 23 Aug 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (23 Aug. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571174256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571174256
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 3.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 275,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, the son of Irish writer Perceval Graves and Amalia Von Ranke. He went from school to the First World War, where he became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. After this, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University in 1926, he earned his living by writing, mostly historical novels, including: I, Claudius; Claudius the God; Count Belisarius; Wife of Mr Milton; Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth; Proceed, Sergeant Lamb; The Golden Fleece; They Hanged My Saintly Billy; and The Isles of Unwisdom. He wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929, and it was soon established as a modern classic. The Times Literary Supplement acclaimed it as 'one of the most candid self portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted', as well as being of exceptional value as a war document. Two of his most discussed non-fiction works are The White Goddess, which presents a new view of the poetic impulse, and The Nazarine Gospel Restored (with Joshua Podro), a re-examination of primitive Christianity. He also translated Apuleius, Lucan and Suetonius for the Penguin Classics, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (with Omar Ali-Shah) is also published in Penguin. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961 and made an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, in 1971.

Robert Graves died on 7 December 1985 in Majorca, his home since 1929. On his death The Times wrote of him, 'He will be remembered for his achievements as a prose stylist, historical novelist and memorist, but above all as the great paradigm of the dedicated poet, "the greatest love poet in English since Donne".'

(Image courtesy of The William Graves Collection.)

Product Description

Book Description

The White Goddess by Robert Graves - a fusion of scholarship on folklore, mythology, religion and poetry - is a work of unprecedented originality and brilliance.

About the Author

Robert Graves (1895-1985) was a poet, novelist and critic. His first volume of poems, Over the Brazier (1916), reflected his experiences in the trenches, and was followed by many works of poetry, non-fiction and fiction. He is best known for his novel, I, Claudius (1934), which won the Hawthornden and James Tait Black memorial prizes and for his influential The White Goddess (1948).

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. Penelope J. Jaquet on 4 April 2011
Format: Paperback
Robert Graves himself says that poetic myth is an instinctive retelling of the old stories that never basically change. It is only the content that varies with each recitation, the meaning is always the same.
I had a copy of this for my GCE A Level many years ago, and it was invaluable to interpret W.B. Yeat's poetry. Since then I have often referred to it, and even once read it through complete.
It is incredibly difficult sometimes, but really rewarding, and to me far more useful than Fraser's Golden Bough. Celtic myth and Druidic history have suffered with the passage of time, but once you have read Graves' book you will never look at any literature again in the same way, but see the little sparkling reminders of the Goddess herself still waiting to catch the unwary!
If you are really serious about our past, whether literature, myth or legend, then this is the book to have on your shelf.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jon Corelis on 28 April 2013
Format: Paperback
As the reviews indicate, this is a popular, influential, and controversial book. Let's put things in perspective by quoting the first and best review of it, the statement by T. S. Eliot, who was responsible for its publication, that this is a 'prodigious, monstrous, stupefying, indescribable book.' Eliot was not, to say the least, given to exaggeration, so his opinion is all the more suggestive that there must be something special here.

A second data point: this book is just what it says it is: 'A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth.' It may be the only one ever written. But be that as it may, criticisms of the book's scholarship are quite beside the point, because it isn't and doesn't claim to be a work of scholarship. It's a work of visionary poetic intuition which uses Celtic mythology as a paradigm to explore the roots of poetic inspiration. To criticize its scholarship is like criticizing the Old Testament for employing invalid anthropological methods.

Admittedly, the book is not easy reading, and much of it may never be clear to many readers. Graves himself warns that 'this remains a very difficult book, as well as a very queer one, to be avoided by anyone with a distracted, tired, or rigidly scientific mind.' But he goes on to give a useful reference point to which his whole complex, and often convoluted, argument ultimately remains related: that 'the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour of the Mood-goddess, or Muse, and that this remains the language of true poetry.' The argument for, or one might better call it the exploration of, this thesis takes the reader on something of a wild ride.
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71 of 77 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback
The White Goddess by Robert Graves A new edition edited by Grevel Lindop
Three things that enrich the poet: Myths, poetic power, a store of ancient verse.
Graves first published "The White Goddess" in 1948, and he published revised and expanded editions in 1952 (1958 USA) and 1961. Now a fourth edition has been published by Carcanet in England as part of the Robert Graves Programme, and Faber and Faber has published a paperback edition. So far this edition is not published in the USA.
The editor Grevel Lindop has written a good introduction to the book. He calls the book "a historical grammar of poetic myth" (Graves's subtitle), "an adventure in historical detective work, a headlong quest through the forests of half the world's mythologies, a poet's introduction to poetry, a critique of western civilisation, a polemic about the relationship between man and woman, and a disguised autobiography." (Page vii.) What he does not call the book is a miscellany of poems by Graves and others. That's too bad, because what is permanently valuable about the book is not Graves's theories, but rather the poems that are included. Graves included about 15 of his own poems in the book, and they are some of his best. Most of Grave's poems that were included here were first published in his Collected Poems 1914-1947. Here we get not only the poems but the explanations of them. It is as if Graves is his own scholaist. An example of this is found in Chapter XX "A Conversation at Paphos--43 AD" where Graves writes the first three lines of the poem "Nuns and Fish," and then 14 pages later he gives the final two lines.
That's not to say that I am entirely happy with Lindop's editing.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By JaspMasqueline on 6 Aug. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The central idea is that there exists a single fundamental story, an essential motif in mythology and in all "true" poetry;


The woman is the White Goddess of the title. The men are the demigods of Summer and Winter, and their battle is an allegory of the changing of the seasons. Every other story, fictional or otherwise, is a part of or a retelling of or a distortion of this central truth. The wealth of examples used by Graves is astonishing; even the Scriptures can be interpreted in the light of it.

Graves assembles his argument by cracking the code of two ancient Welsh poems. "The Battle of the Trees" (Cad Goddeu) and "The History of Taliesin" (Hanes Taliesin) are found to conceal two mystical alphabet-cum-calendar charms, Celtic equivalents of the Norse Runes. These charms are the means by which the story of the eternal love triangle is preserved, and they also hide the names of two Celtic deities, theoretically in conflict in the fourth century BC. The process by which the decoding is made is brilliant, erudite, and academically outrageous- no University would sanction it. And yet, Graves is certainly on to something.

Even if you disagree, it's worth reading this book and making your mind up yourself. No knowledge of Welsh is required (Graves himself proceeds from English translations). On the way you'll learn more about mythology, religion and anthropology than from any officially sanctioned source- only Frazer's "The Golden Bough" comes close to it. Treat it all cautiously- but discount none of it.
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