Robert Graves was born on 7 December 1895. This is the second year in which I have the privilege of celebrating his birthday in writing.
In that time, I’ve attempted to grasp and convey a sense of Deià’s remarkable importance in the context of a certain kind of culture. How much this is down to the place itself, to the people who have come here or a mixture of both, I don’t know. But I’m increasingly certain of the part Graves played, coming up to 100 years after he first arrived in the village.
Graves described his way of working as a ‘simple method of looking sideways at disorderly facts so as to make perfect sense of them’. While I will probably never make perfect sense of the facts of Graves’s life, it is clear to me that he occupies a unique place in the non-mainstream, sometimes hidden culture that feels like home to many of us. A culture best appreciated sideways on.
I have discovered that Graves was a great friend of visionary artist New Zealand-born Len Lye. That in the 1950s he shared mycological and mythical wisdom with Gordon Wasson, the man who ‘bought magic mushrooms to the west’. That he was a patron of out-there jazzer Cecil Taylor and a friend of British tenor sax player Ronnie Scott. That he was adored by Ava Gardner. That he helped Colin Wilson formulate a theory of the occult that informed Wilson’s book of the same name. That Nobel prize-winner Robert Zimmerman used to carry a copy of The White Goddess around with him and was, allegedly, turned away from Graves’s door in 1964 because the great poet was too busy to see him.
These are only the names that spring immediately to mind and I’m only scratching the surface of the surface. Whether he met them or not, Graves helped shape both their thinking and their art. This, in turn, went on to influence the culture we live in today in ways that are countless but always push the boundaries in the direction of the avant-garde, mystical and unexpected. Everything that makes life a little more interesting.
Happy Birthday, Robert. I wish I’d met you.