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My dear Ransome,

Will you accept the dedication of this poem which seems naturally yours? It was more than a year writing without losing much of the excitement of the original scheme, but when on the cooling of inspiration constructional flaws appeared, these proved to be beyond help of riveting and surface tinkering, so the edition is small and very few review copies will go out. Still the poem is a necessary signpost to those friends of mine who have found the change between the two halves of my recent collection of lyrics, Whipperginny, inexplicably abrupt: and though dissatisfied I am not ashamed. It would be as well, from other considerations altogether, not to let the honest burghers of Nashville, Tenn., already scandalized by your Poems about God, see a copy of the Feather-bed: but if this should happen and they demand an explanation, tell them that I have no anticonstitutional intentions. Explain that it is a study of a fatigued mind in a fatigued body and under the stress of an abnormal conflict, that they can read it, if they will, as a cautionary tale after the style of John Bunyan’s unregenerate Mr Badman, only that Badman was unregenerate (wasn’t he?) to the last, while I leave my young man in the throes of nightmare. Assure them that neither does the author nor in a more normal mood would the hero of the poem himself imagine convent

 life to be what it here seems to be; but that the staggering rebuff to the young man’s typical bullying attitude in love leads him to invent this monstrous libel in compensation; which libel is merely flattery to his own wounded pride.

The psychological interest of the piece for me, now I have finished, is in the way that the logical argument broken by circlings of associative thought, all however relevant to the emotional disturbance, is continually being caught up again with an effort by the drowsy intellect. When at last the sour grapes idea, with its accompanying fantastics, has determined a reasonable and apparently final decision of rupture both with the girl herself and with the traditional religion she represents, the effort relaxes and the mind is overborne in sleep by nightmares, its revolutionary enthusiasm flattened by the reaction of tradition. The Morning Star theme is an interpolation by the outside Orator to stabilize the drama which without some such solution comes dangerously near a manifesto of atheism.

When you visit us in England I want to talk to you about Lucifer and explain how I had been reading the Old and New Testaments while writing this poem. Briefly in this way, as a record of the progressive understanding of God throughout the ages by a single representative race, the Jews. God is presented in three degrees at least. There is God the creator of the race of man, but of man still animal of the animals, whose daughters the sons of Adam found fair; let us call that God, Saturn. Then there is Jehovah or Jove, Saturn’s successor: the Garden of Eden is the perfect symbolic expression of the birth of Jehovah. It is more than a fable of the dawn of sex consciousness, it dramatizes man’s recognition of the end of a long biological phase, and the birth pangs of the new experimental period called civilization. The old heritage of self-seeking instinct, in conflict with a new principle of

 social order found necessary for the further survival of the race, split the primitive idea of God into two, the ideas of Good and Evil, Good being the approval by the social mind of those non-conscious workings of the body which further its aims, Evil being the condemnation of the old Adam inclinations which run counter to it. This idea of Good then is Jehovah, the God of the present, predominantly male, violent, blundering, deceitful, with great insistence on uniformity of rites duties and taboos, at whatever cost to the individual; Jehovah’s greatest champion I found in Moses.

Finally there is Lucifer, the God of the future, only a weakling as yet, the hope of eventual adjustment between ancient habits and present needs. As the spirit of reconciliation, Lucifer puts out of date the negative virtue of Good fighting with Evil, and proposes an Absolute Good which we can now conceive of as Peace.

The doctrine of mutual responsibility for error, and of mutual respect between individuals, sexes, classes, groups, and nations, a higher conception than the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth doctrine of Jehovah, is Lucifer’s. This ideal anarchy is the aspect of God momentarily seen, I thought, by Jesus Christ, before him prophesied by Isaiah and before him by Melchizedek; but since fallen even among Christians under the renewed tyranny of Jehovah. The story of Lucifer’s fall is clearly written in the Acts of the Apostles; where the violence of Moses towards the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath Day is worthily imitated by Peter when he strikes dead Ananias and Sapphira for a partial witholding of a voluntary gift; where the low cunning of Jacob with Esau is matched by Paul’s stirring up the partizanship of Saducee against Pharisee while preaching the doctrine of tolerance.

This Light-Bringer Lucifer has been persistently misidentified by the priests of Jehovah with the spirit of

 Evil, their God’s arch-enemy. But I would have it put like this: if John Milton had paused to enquire why Jesus Christ promised his followers the Morning Star as a reward for virtue, Milton would have been spared the compunction which certainly was besetting him in Paradise Lost for having conceived of his Prince of Darkness as so much of a gentleman.

One day I must give you the full history of the famous encounter between the archangel Michael and Lucifer (outlined in the Epistle of Jude) when Lucifer asked the riddle still current in English speaking nurseries and Michael dared not answer or even curse him, because an open discussion of this particular point might prove dangerous to the fortunes of Jehovah. In the Revelations chapter which provides the familiar lesson for All Saints’ Day we hear that Michael had to admit the implied charge by resorting to violence. But guess the riddle and you shall have the answer given you; this is the proper course communication should take between poets.

And so yours in all good will,

Robert Graves.



August, 1922.

Ficción y literatura
30 junio
Rectory Print

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