Robert GRAVES (1895–1985)
Poet and writer
World's End, Collice Street, Islip
Robert Graves outside World's End
Robert von Ranke Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon to Alfred Perceval Graves, an Irish poet and educationist, and Amalia von Ranke of a German academic family. He was educated at Charterhouse where his poetic gift blossomed. He won a classical exhibition to St John’s, Oxford, but on the outbreak of war joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was badly wounded on the Somme and later suffered from shell shock. His experiences are vividly recorded in his autobiography Goodbye to All That, the classic account the horrors of WWI, but he also tells of the friendships he formed with other war poets, especially Siegfried Sassoon.
After the war he resumed his undergraduate studies at St John’s, changing his subject from Classics to English. In 1918 he had married Nancy Nicholson, sister of the artist Ben Nicholson, and was allowed to live out of college. The couple first lived on Boars Hill in Dingle Cottage in John Masefield’s garden. Then in 1921 they moved to World’s End in Islip, where they lived with four young children. He was long remembered in Islip as a striking and unconventional character who entered into the spirit of village life, becoming a Labour member of the Parish Council and campaigning on social issues such as the provision of local housing and a community football ground. He also played for the village team. He devotes the final chapters of his autobiographyto the Islip years which came to an end in 1926 when he took up a short-lived appointment as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University.
In 1929 he began a new life in Majorca with the American poet Laura Riding, now his lover, muse, critic and mentor. The following decade inspired much poetry and prose, including Goodbye to All That (1929) and the historical novel I Claudius (1934). In 1939 he formed a new and lasting relationship with Beryl Hodge who bore him four children. After living in Devon during the war years, they settled in Majorca at Canellun, Deyá and were married in 1950. Here he wrote The White Goddess (1948) and The Greek Myths (1955), an exhaustive handbook, and published his Collected Poems (1959).
Robert Graves thought of himself as primarily a poet. He received recognition in the form of the Gold Medal of the National Poetry Society of America and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. In 1961 he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford. In 1971 St John’s made him an honorary fellow. By the time of his eightieth birthday he had published more than 135 books. He died in Deyá in 1985 and is buried in the churchyard there.
- Sources: Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Richard Perceval Graves
- Photograph taken at the unveiling ceremony
- Photograph of William and Lucia Graves, children of Robert Graves, with the plaque
- Speech made by William Graves at the unveiling ceremony
- Oxford Mail, 22 May 2014: “Blue Plaque honour for war poet Robert Graves”
The plaque was unveiled at World’s End, Islip, on 18 May 2014 by his son William Graves. Among those attending was Professor Maggie Snowling, FBA, President of St John’s College. The Islip Village Archive Society had arranged an exhibition as part of the event.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
Poet and Writer
St John's College Oxford