Nox Oculis

Robert Graves (1895-1985)

Robert Ranke Graves, poète et romancier britannique, auteur notamment de biographies historiques.

Diplômé d'Oxford, Graves enseigna dans plusieurs universités avant de s'installer en 1929 à Majorque. Le premier recueil de Graves, Fairies and Fusiliers (1917), retraçant ses expériences pendant la Première Guerre mondiale est un classique du genre. Adieu à tout cela (1929), sont également des souvenirs de guerre mais satiriques.

Graves est avant tout connu pour ses biographies historiques Moi, Claude, empereur (1934), le Divin Claude (1934), le Roi Jésus (1946) et la Fille de Homère (1955). Traducteur de poètes latins, Graves se passionna également pour la mythologie et est l'auteur de plusieurs ouvrages contestés la Déesse blanche (1947) et les Mythes Grecs (1968). Assimilé à contre-cur aux poètes georgiens, Graves se fit le chantre de l'amour dans Collected Poems (1959). En 1968, en collaboration avec le poète soufi Omar Ali-Shah, Graves publia The Original Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, rejetant ainsi l'adaptation anglaise qu'en avait faite au XIXe siècle le poète Edward Fitzgerald. La version de Graves ne comporte pas de rimes et emploie un style moderne.

To Juan at the Winter Solstice

    There is one story and one story only
    That will prove worth your telling,
    Whether as learned bard or gifted child ;
    To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
    That startle with their shining
    Such common stories as they stray into.

    Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
    Or strange beasts that beset you,
    Of birds that croak at you the Triple will ?
    Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
    Below the Boreal Crown,
    Prison to all true kings that ever reigned ?

    Water to water, ark again to ark,
    From woman back to woman :
    So each new victim treads unfalteringly
    The never altered circuit of his fate,
    Bringing twelve peers as witness
    Both to his starry rise and starry fall.

    Or is it of the Virgin's silver beauty,
    All fish below the thighs ?
    She in her left hand bears a leafy quince ;
    When, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
    How many the King hold back ?
    Royally then he barters life for love.

    Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
    Whose coils contain the ocean,
    Into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
    Then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
    Battles three days and nights,
    To be spewed up beside her scalloped shore ?

    Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
    The owl hoots from the elder,
    Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup :
    Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
    The log groans and confesses :
    There is one story and one story only.

    Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
    Do not forget what flowers
    The great boar trampled down in ivy time.
    Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
    Her sea-blue eyes were wild
    But nothing promised that is not performed.

    Robert Graves, 1945


    'Are you awake, Gemelli,
    This frosty night ?'
    'We'll be awake till reveillé,
    Which is Sunrise,' say the Gemelli,
    'It's no good trying to go to sleep :
    If there's wine to be got we'll drink it deep,
    But rest is hopeless to-night,
    But rest is hopeless to-night.'

    'Are you cold too, poor Pleiads,
    This frosty night ?'
    'Yes, and so are the Hyads :
    See us cuddle and hug,' say the Pleiads,
    'All six in a ring: it keeps us warm :
    We huddle together like birds in a storm :
    It's bitter weather to-night,
    It's bitter weather to-night.'

    'What do you hunt, Orion,
    This starry night ?'
    'The Ram, the Bull and the Lion,
    And the Great Bear,' says Orion,
    'With my starry quiver and beautiful belt
    I am trying to find a good thick pelt
    To warm my shoulders to-night,
    To warm my shoulders to-night.

    'Did you hear that, Great She-bear,
    This frosty night ?
    'Yes, he's talking of stripping me bare
    Of my own big fur,' says the She-bear,
    'I'm afraid of the man and his terrible arrow :
    The thought of it chills my bones to the marrow,
    And the frost so cruel to-night !
    And the frost so cruel to-night !'

    'How is your trade, Aquarius,
    This frosty night ?'
    'Complaints is many and various
    And my feet are cold,' says Aquarius,
    'There's Venus objects to Dolphin-scales,
    And Mars to Crab-spawn found in my pails,
    And the pump has frozen to-night,
    And the pump has frozen to-night.'

    Robert Graves

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