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The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Amended and Enlarged Edition Paperback – January 1, 1966

4.2 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Robert Graves, the late British poet and novelist, was also known for his studies of the mythological and psychological sources of poetry. With The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Graves was able to combine many of his passions into one work. While the book is so poetically written that many of the passages amount to prose poems, it is also frequently plot driven enough to feel like a novel, and it is rich with scholarly insight into the deep wells of poetry. Especially fascinating is the chapter in which Graves explores the ancient and ongoing practice of poets' invoking the muse. Graves details the practice in both the Eastern and Western literary traditions, and shows specific similarities and differences among Greek, British, and Irish tales and myths about the muse. Graves has much to offer students of history and myth, but poetry lovers will also be fascinated with The White Goddess.

About the Author

Robert Graves (1895-1985), born in London, was one of the most talented, colorful, and prolific men of letters in the twentieth century. He is best known for his historical novels, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. He spent much of his life on the island of Majorca.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 1, 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374504938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374504939
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 1.4 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas F. Ogara on December 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
I am a great fan of Robert Graves. I find him to be an outstanding poet, an excellent novelist, and a compelling writer of non-fiction. Probably the best known, if not the best, example of the last mentioned genre is "The White Goddess."
When "Goddess" first appeared in the late 1940's it was a groundbreaking work; for lack of a better definition it is a book on cultural anthropolgy written by a poet, who felt that as a a poet and a man who understood the inner motivation of the poet he would give his views on the Muse and her invocation. The book covers a lot of territory, sprawling across civilization from the Greeks to the Celts, and from the three forms of the Muse to the Fisher King to the Ogham alphabet. It wanders so far that it's hard to keep up with Mr. Graves as he gallops across centuries and over distances. For those of us used to Mr. Graves' usual tight control of his material and its presentation, it's difficult to deal with how he jumps from subject to subject with little or no notice.
I'm almost tempted to say that this is Mr. Graves' version of "Finnegan's Wake", only in a non-fictional form. It certainly is his encomium to the White Goddess, whom he identifies as the original Muse of all poets, including himself. There's enough to think about for years in this book, and neo-pagan movements may be described as having largely started based on the thoughts provoked by this book.
But Graves was a poet, not a social scientist, and in the last fifty years many of his observations have been proven to be wrong. This in itself is not so surprising, nor is it really such a bad thing; the real problem is the amount of emotional residue that those ideas left in their wake.
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Format: Paperback
I won't pretend I know exactly what this book is about. Graves presents his arguments with the reasoning of a poet, decidedly not the formal logic of a theologian or the empirical induction of a historian. I gave this book 5 stars because of its sheer ambition and audacity. Graves is attempting a synthesis of the entirety of mythology into a coherent grammatical code, a universal metaphysical language. That is a monumental undertaking, not only due to the breadth of knowledge of the Christian, Pagan and Classical canons it requires, but also because these traditions are commonly regarded as antithetical, their communities, such as they exist, hostile to each other. Graves proffers a common root under the ossified codices, if with an uneven case.
Poets, as a group, are known for their affinity to the mystical and mythological. The poetic temperament imbues and projects inner forms with aspects of corporeality, which the rest of us grasp only dimly as a spectre of consciousness, without significance or shape. The true poet is more likely to see them as a magical talisman, an object of necessary reality. Numbers, alphabets, calendars, zodiacs-- lunar and solar domains-- a primal order bubbles from the cauldron of Graves's conceptions. His spells are incarnate in trees, minerals, birds, planets-- metaphors of an underlying truth.
This analysis springs from two dense poems of spiritual mysticism, The Battle of the Trees (Welsh Druid) and Hanes Taliesen ( Early Christian). Presented as a vision, like Revelations, they pose a riddle and mix symbols. Graves's solution loosely ties his thesis together.
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Format: Paperback
More startling than the Golden Bough! More conjectural than Manly Hall! Who cares if the facts are correct? This book is amazing, and enough of it matches up with familiar mytho-historical fragments to keep you going along, nodding your head and saying "yeah, I'm with you." Graves admits quite clearly that much of his conclusions are pure conjecture. This book isn't about history, it's about poetry and mysticism - if you're moaning about the disservice done to Celtic scholarship, then perhaps you've missed the point. He was guessing. He was making stuff up. He was following his intuition, as long as it made some kind of sense. And it does...

Chapter 19 "The Number of the Beast" is a side-step completely out of the thread of the rest of the book. He devotes the entire chapter to document, step by step, his train of though as he winds his way backwards, forwards, and completely sideways to arrive at a FRIGHTENINGLY plausible solution for the famous "666" cryptogram from the Revelation of St. John. In fact, he arrives at the same traditional solution that theologians have known for centuries, but he arrives there by a completely different route. This book is a supreme example of what management-seminar speakers call "thinking outside of the box." Graves has gotten so far outside the box that he seems to have forgotten that there even WAS a box. The incredible thing is, that there's a lot of truly amazing stuff out there and a lot of it sounds completely plausible after you've followed the circuitous chain of mental connections that got you there..

Though I've read the Mabinogion, Chretiene de Troyes' Arthurian romances, and lots of Norse / Icelandic lore, I'll admit there was quite a bit here that went over my head, some material I was unfamiliar with.
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