Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Be Assured, The Dragon Is Not Dead"

As an oblique follow-up to my previous post (or was it a rant?) regarding the perils of "analysis," "explanation," and "busybodyness," I offer the following poem by Robert Graves.  Graves is -- needless to say -- a million times more articulate and artful than I could ever hope to be.


Be assured, the Dragon is not dead
But once more from the pools of peace
Shall rear his fabulous green head.

The flowers of innocence shall cease
And like a harp the wind shall roar
And the clouds shake an angry fleece.

'Here, here is certitude,' you swore,
'Below this lightning-blasted tree.
Where once it struck, it strikes no more.

'Two lovers in one house agree.
The roof is tight, the walls unshaken.
As now, so must it always be.'

Such prophecies of joy awaken
The toad who dreams away the past
Under your hearth-stone, light forsaken,

Who knows that certitude at last
Must melt away in vanity --
No gate is fast, no door is fast --

That thunder bursts from the blue sky,
That gardens of the mind fall waste,
That fountains of the heart run dry.

Robert Graves, Poems 1914-1926 (1927).

                               Stephen Bone (1904-1958), "Ballantrae"

Given Graves's lifelong preoccupation with love, "Vanity" may simply be about the vagaries of human relationships.  However, I like to think that it has broader implications.  I find that people who display a great deal of "certitude" -- particularly about how the world ought to be -- are deluding themselves.  And are tiresome.  And are possibly dangerous (when they want to make their idea of Utopia yours as well, whether you like it or not).

Off the top of my head, only three certainties come to mind.  First: the World -- right now, this moment, as it is -- is paradise.  Second: we are all scheduled to depart from this paradise.  Third: there is a toad under the hearth-stone; be assured, the Dragon is not dead.

                                      Stephen Bone, "Arisaig" (1940s)


Fred said...


This is especially apt when one considers today's political climate where one political party has now made changing one's mind when new evidence is presented to be a moral weakness--flip-flopping.

They claim that maintaining one's position in spite of contrary evidence is a virtue and admirable.

Bovey Belle said...

Hmmm. Much pondering for me over the meaning of that poem (of course, unknown to me hitherto!) It will take a few readings I think.

However, the view of Arisaig, looking across to Skye IS familiar to me, as we have stayed nearby and I have a not dis-similar view of Skye by Gillian McDonald viewed just a couple of miles above Arisaig.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I haven't been paying enough attention to keep track of who is accusing who of what. In any event, it seems that there is more than enough flip-flopping and expediency on both sides. And we've only just begun!

As always, thanks for visiting, and for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: thank you for stopping by again, and for your thoughts.

Graves's poems often take some time to sink in -- but they sound so nice that it is pleasant to think about them for a while.

I was once in Arisaig as well (a long time ago). I wasn't aware that you could see Skye from there -- I was only there for an evening and (not surprisingly, since it was October) it was too gloomy and rainy to see anything in the distance!

Bovey Belle said...

I recall camping right on the shore at Arisaig. There was a little jetty where a round-the-islands ferry came chugging in - it had been a WWII landing craft in a former life.

A huge lorry reversed onto the jetty - just inches either side - and all sorts of stuff was unloaded onto the ferry, including some of the mankiest "hay" I have ever seen. Island cattle are obviously not fussy . . .

As the lorry drove away, the little ferry puffed into the sunset, where the islands floated like dreams, and the lights of an island castle shone golden.

We will go back there . . . one day. My McDonald picture looks o have been painted somewhere close to Back of Keppoch, a couple of miles above Arisaig, where the beaches are white sand and the water incredibly clear - and incredibly cold, even in August.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: thank you for the description of your stay in Arisaig. It makes me want to return to that part of the world. There was something about western Scotland -- and particularly Skye -- that I have never gotten over: the ever-changing light and wide-openness perhaps. I have seen nothing like it before or since.

Thanks again.

Frank said...

I think the poem is about the prediction promoted at the time that World War I was the war to end all wars. World War II came back incredibly within a generation and with a vengeance, and with amazing parallels with the folly of the first.

Stephen Pentz said...

Frank: Thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts about the poem. I appreciate your interpretation, which hadn't occurred to me before. It makes perfect sense, given Graves's experiences in the First World War.

Thank you again.