Why Chaos is Sometimes Lucidity's Best Friend
Robert Graves, the English poet and scholar, on the advantages of a scattered mind.
Robert Graves was, to say the least, an extremely prolific writer. His bibliography features some 140 works, including poetry, novels, historical essays, lectures and speeches on topics ranging from classical Greco-Rom an culture to the songs of the Celts.
All of his life, though, Graves considered himself a poet, and repeatedly remarked that the “life of a poet” was the only one that interested him. In a quote from one of his most famous books, The White Goddess, Graves wrote:
Since the age of 15, poetry has been my ruling passion and I have never intentionally undertaken any task or formed any relationship that seemed inconsistent with poetic principles; which has sometimes won me the reputation of an eccentric.
His poem “In Broken Images” sums up the character of his thought: rather than appealing to rationality and academic rules, Graves is carried away by imagination and intuition, even thinking it was possible to learn through intuition and directed attention. And this was always in contrast to the characteristics of more academic or rational thinkers. Thus, the poet comes to better understand confusion or chaos, while the rational thinker ends in but a confused clarity.
“In Broken Images”
He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.
He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.
Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.
Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact;
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.
When the fact fails him, he question his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.
He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.
He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.
Collected Poems, 1961.
* Image: Adaptation of Robert Fludd’s “Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris metaphysica” (Oppenhemii, 1617) / University of Oklahoma.
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