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Strawberries that in gardens grow
Are plump and juicy fine,
But sweeter far as wise men know
Spring from the woodland vine.

No need for bowl or silver spoon,
Sugar or spice or cream,
Has the wild berry plucked in June
Beside the trickling stream.

One such to melt at the tongue’s root,
Confounding taste with scent,
Beats a full peck of garden fruit:
Which points my argument.

May sudden justice overtake
And snap the froward pen,
That old and palsied poets shake
Against the minds of men.

Blasphemers trusting to hold caught
In far-flung webs of ink,
The utmost ends of human thought
Till nothing’s left to think.

But may the gift of heavenly peace
And glory for all time
Keep the boy Tom who tending geese
First made the nursery rhyme.

White Goddess*’Wild Strawberries’, by Robert Graves (1895-1985), author of Good-Bye to All That (1929), I, Claudius (1934), et cetera. This poem is not actually about strawberries (not so much anyway) – it’s about literary theory. In 1948 Graves wrote The White Goddess in which he wrote in detail about his inspiration for writing. ‘The White Goddess’ [of birth, love, death, etc] was Graves’ term for this creative power which should be worshipped. Graves felt that goddess worship was the mother of all religions which had become obscured by male dominated theories, perspectives, liturgies and rituals.

In the poem Graves is saying that “wild” strawberries grown the natural way are best, tastiest. Then by analogy he says that poets, weaving their over-wrought, over-thought inky webs, should (more often than not) sup some shut-up juice: the natural, inspired way a young boy tending the geese makes up a rhyme is the way it should be – natural, goddess given, charged with a heavenly spontaneity. (By the by, that’s not a misprint, “froward” means “difficult to deal with” or “controversial.”)

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