Anyone interested in language will recognise the central paradox that Robert Graves alludes to in this poem, how we manage to reconstruct our world by using words. And in the business of doing that, distancing ourselves from emotion, we are making ourselves less vital, less alive - less than children. Children's pre language life is dramatic, fearful, exciting, and as we begin to name the challenges, and the experiences we have, we perform this dislocation. Robert Graves is the author that wrote about the Ancient Romans in ' I, Claudius' ,and the Hellenic civilization in 'The Golden Fleece', amongst other works.It is fascinating that a poet draws our attention to this facet of language, a man whose a master of it.A further rummage into the poetry books comes up with this one of his - another celebration of the richness of childhood, and the imaginative drive. Marvellous.
Warning to Children
Children, if you dare to think Of the greatness, rareness, muchness Fewness of this precious only Endless world in which you say You live, you think of things like this: Blocks of slate enclosing dappled Red and green, enclosing tawny Yellow nets, enclosing white And black acres of dominoes, Where a neat brown paper parcel Tempts you to untie the string. In the parcel a small island, On the island a large tree, On the tree a husky fruit. Strip the husk and pare the rind off: In the kernel you will see Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled Red and green, enclosed by tawny Yellow nets, enclosed by white And black acres of dominoes, Where the same brown paper parcel - Children, leave the string alone! For who dares undo the parcel Finds himself at once inside it, On the island, in the fruit, Blocks of slate about his head, Finds himself enclosed by dappled Green and red, enclosed by yellow Tawny nets, enclosed by black And white acres of dominoes, With the same brown paper parcel Still untied upon his knee. And, if he then should dare to think Of the fewness, muchness, rareness, Greatness of this endless only Precious world in which he says he lives - he then unties the string.
Anyone interested in the first world war should look to his autobiographical novel ‘Goodbye to All That’, written when he was still relatively young, 34, in which he gives a moving account of his experiences. He made friends with Siegfreid Sasson during his war years, and both men were instrumental in how poetry was written amongst English writers from thereon. They wrote of the horrors of trench warfare, and of the banality and mundanity of war. I can recommend the later book ‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker for further exploration of how the world seemed to young men during the upheaval of war. Essential reading to my mind. But then, what do I know?