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visions and memory in myth
am 17. Dezember 1999
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. Linguists have theorized about the existence of grammatical archetypes; mythic relics are visible in Christian sacraments; correspondence amongst various folklore is widely acknowledged. Graves is not proposing anything radically new. He has, though, developed a cryptic framework which is supernatural and aesthetic, an elixir of divination and contemplation. He sees the White Goddess, as muse, in every authentic poem since those of Homer. His construction puts history at the service of his grammatical architecture. The White Goddess is a work of introspection and selective interpretation, comparable to those of Jung or Spengler, not one of conventional scholarship. Many of its assertions are farfetched or arbitrary, some pure formulations. That is not to understate its value. This is the culmination of a life's reflections, investigations and musings. It represents the articulation of a powerful, syncretic imagination-- a concordance of speculation and intuition.