Happy birthday, Robert Graves

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite poets, Robert Graves. He was born in London in 1895. His passion was poetry, but he wrote novels to support himself and said: “Prose books are the show dogs I breed and sell to support my cat.” He wrote historical novels such as I, Claudius (1934) and Claudius the God (1934). (I was introduced to these by Doc Ziebell, my superlative high school history teacher.) He also penned a memoir about WWI, Goodbye to All That (1929), in addition to a lot of other good stuff.

One of the most inspiring things I remember reading that Robert Graves ever said — I think it was in Goodbye to All That — was when he was describing his life as a father with young children. He says that he took care of them quite often, but that even with the demands on his time and attention that small children (deservedly) bring, he still found time to write. He would rise before they were awake in the mornings, and write poetry then, before the day’s work began. “If it matters to you, you find time for it,” he said simply — and that has stuck with me ever since. That statement of Graves’ has motivated me to find proper time for my devotional life, for exercise, and for my family. That idea has guided me and made me a better person. I don’t think I would have accomplished nearly as much as I have, were it not for that (and the help of my wife, as chief among others, but that’s another topic for another time.)

“If it matters to you, you find time for it.” His poetry helped me focus on what really matters to me, and it helped me trust myself and my own instincts. He gave me permission to entertain doubts and “what-ifs”, and by doing so their power over me dissolved. I owe him a debt for that. That’s the power of poetry — it lives on long after we do, and who knows who will be affected by it one day. So go on; pick up your pen; add something to the wide river of words that is all poetry. You never who you’ll help or turn around.

(ht:writer’s almanac)


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