First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Letter from Robert Graves to Wilfred Owen

[Circa 17 October 1917]

3rd Garr. Batt., R.W.F., Kinmel Park,
Rhy, N. Wales

Do you know, Owen, that's a damn fine poem of yours, that 'Disabled.' Really damn fine!

So good the general sound and weight of the words that the occasional metrical outrages are most surprising. It's like seeing a golfer drive onto the green in one and then use a cleek instead of a putter, & hole out in twelve.

For instance you have a foot too much in

In the old days before he gave away his knees
& in He wasn't bothered much by Huns or crimes or guilts
& They cheered him home but not as they would cheer a goal
& Now he will spend a few sick years in institutes

There is an occasional jingle

Voices of boys
& Voices of play and pleasure after day

And an occasional cliché

Girls glanced lovelier
scanty suits of grey

I wouldn't worry to metion all this if it wasn't for my violent pleasure at some of the lines like the one about the 'solemn man who brought him fruits' & the 'jewelled hilts of daggers in plaid socks' & the 'Bloodsmear down his leg after the matches'.

Owen, you have seen things; you are a poet; but you're a very careless one at present. One can't put in too many syllables into a line & say 'Oh, it's all right. That's my way of writing poetry'. One has to follow the rules of the meter one adopts. Make new meters by all means, but one must observe the rules where they are laid down by a custom of centuries. A painter or musician has no greater task in mastering his colours or his musical modes & harmonies, than a poet.

It's the devil of a sweat for him to get to know the value of his rhymes, rhythms or sentiments. But I have no doubt at all that if you turned seriously to writing, you could obtain Parnassus in no time while I'm still struggling on the knees of that stubborn peak.

Till then, good luck in the good work. Yours Robert Graves.
Love to Sassoon.

CL, p. 595