“Women,” said Robert Graves, “hold the key to the return of a Golden Age. And that will be the time when man will recognise himself once more as a spiritual being and escape from all this nonsense…”
We were tramping slowly up a stony path from the sea at Deià, Majorca, on a hot summer’s day after a swim among the rocks far below the Graves’s home. It was a Sunday. Time for a picnic under a grapevine canopy, for drinking local wine, chewing Majorcan ensaïmada, and talk. Forty years his junior, it was I who puffed and panted as we worked our way to the picnic up the cliff track, grudgingly shared by grazing sheep. Robert Graves is 73, but lithe and magnetic as ever. You couldn’t doubt what he had to say about women and magic. It just wasn’t possible. He’d thought about them, and life itself, for so many years.
Recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and a former Professor of Poetry at Oxford, he has intimated his faith in womankind in several of his poems. Perhaps in particular that line “Magic is entangled in a woman’s hair. For the enlightenment of man’s pride,” in “The Snap Comb Wilderness,” hints at this. To me he said now: “It’s an open secret some women hold, you know. Yet they must never form themselves into societies. If that should happen,” this came wrily, “things are bound to go wrong. Isn’t that the story of man’s decline – because somebody started organising?
“About one in twenty women are possessed of this thing I call magic. They can be of any age, any nationality. They are aware of the power of creation, the love force, and they remind mankind that its soul can recall golden times. Of all the virtues we’ve most allowed to become neglected,” the poet added sternly while a more timid ewe scuttled away from his path.” It is this power of magic.
“Women who do have this special sense are often unstable people, living in a succession of crises because they have been born before – or after – their time. They want only a poet (and I use the word broadly), someone who is also aware of magic and who can act by it. Barely one in a thousand men can answer their needs. They come among the dedicated kind like craftsmen, doctors and so on. Small wonder magical women lead distressed lives, for the majority of men just cannot understand what it is they are driving at.”
The answer to that one came as we were rounding yet another dusty bend, still a long walk to go. The septuagenarian hitched up his trousers, insecurely belted with a coloured tie, and mused: “What concerns them is love, the building and protecting of a pure relationship between a man and woman. For them, working in harmony with the love force, which I most certainly believe exists, is of supreme moral importance. They are not jealous as other women, but zealous. Zealous of maintaining that objective. So many men wrongly assume they’re simply being bitchy. So many men, too, think they can do without magic. All the time they are thus destroying much of the power women would have them learn.”
Let’s consider another aspect of magical women. Some are so much ‘on the beam’ of this awareness that coincidences are always happening to them. Here’s a bad example: A magical woman may be in real trouble. Her child has fallen dangerously ill in a lonely village unfamiliar to her. What does she do? She goes straight to a house where happens to be staying a visiting specialist in the very disease attacking the child. Yet she knew nothing of this beforehand. People will call this extraordinary luck, an exceptional case of coincidence. But it is not that. Believe, if you wish, in a guardian angel, watching over her and helping her. But perhaps it is more a question of the woman’s superior ‘consciousness’ – her spiritual acknowledgment of the love force – having pooled itself with that of others. In any case, don’t expect ME to tell you what it is.”
Meet Robert Graves and you will find his sensitivity extreme. He will all but offend the unwary sometimes with blunt, curt replies. He’s a shy man, with iron-grey hair flecked with white, perpetually trussed, and piercing blue eyes. He went to live in Deià in the 1920s. This superb part of the Marjorcan coastline is not far from Valldemosa, where Frederic Chopin and George Sand once wintered.
Artists and writers flock to Deià, and their little children play naked in the street, brown and lively. Some say their parents took to the hills to be near the great poet. They may not be as gifted as he, or as enlightened. But his presence, either up the road at home, or drinking with them at his favourite bar in the village, is constantly felt.
Our hot, dusty climb was nearly over. But not quite his views on women and love. “At present the sexes have such different objectives. One day, each will understand the other and mankind will be that much nearer a Golden Age. Life goes in cycles, and we are returning, if slowly, to that time when man first became aware of a certain levitation of the spirit… of poetry, if you like.
“Yet we have so many problems. As soon as courtship ends, other demands take over and the trouble begins. Our job now must be in seeing that what Blake called the Marriage Hearse, the bringer of death to the spirit of marriage, is avoided at all costs. Death to me means only the smothering of that love force. Physical death is nothing. I am most certainly not afraid of dying, believing there is no life after death. Or, if there is, that it’s of no importance.
“That’s where Christianity has been so ineffective. It glorifies death as promising a haven from this bloody world. I believe our whole purpose is to live and love now.”
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