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Robert Graves's Poem '1805'

 
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notarius
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Joined: 25 May 2002
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Location: Bristol, England

PostPosted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 8:10 pm    Post subject: Robert Graves's Poem '1805' Reply with quote

On the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson, it seems appropriate to reproduce here Robert Graves's poem '1805'; Graves was, of course, rather better known for his poetry of the First World War, not to mention his love poetry, so this must be a fairly unusual example of a 'war poem' inspired by another conflict (although it is clearly more about the man than the battle). In later life Graves suppressed publication of most of his First World War poetry. It was gathered together after his death by William Graves and republished as 'Poems About War' (London: Cassell, 1988, edited and with an introduction by William Graves.)

1805

(This version of the text is taken from Complete Poems Volume 2, Manchester: Carcanet, 1997. The poem was originally published in a limited circulation American magazine in 1942(?), and later in Poems 1938-1945 Satires and Grotesques, London, etc.: Cassell & Co., 1946.)

At Viscount Nelson's lavish funeral,
While the mob milled and yelled about St Paul's,
A General chatted with an Admiral:

'One of your Colleagues, Sir, remarked today
That Nelson's exit, though to be lamented,
Falls not inopportunely, in its way.'

'He was a thorn in our flesh,' came the reply---
'The most bird-witted, unaccountable,
Odd little runt that ever I did spy.

'One arm, one peeper, vain as Pretty Poll,
A meddler, too, in foreign politics
And gave his heart in pawn to a plain moll.

'He would dare lecture us Sea Lords, and then
Would treat his ratings as though men of honour
And play at leap-frog with his midshipmen!

'We tried to box him down, but up he popped,
And when he'd banged Napoleon at the Nile
Became too much the hero to be dropped.

'You've heard that Copenhagen "blind eye" story?
We'd tied him to Nurse Parker's apron-strings---
By G---d, he snipped them through and snatched the glory!'

'Yet,' cried the General, 'six-and-twenty sail
Captured or sunk by him off Tráfalgár---
That writes a handsome finis to the tale.'

'Handsome enough. The seas are England's now.
That fellow's foibles need no longer plague us.
He died most creditably, I'll allow.'

'And, Sir, the secret of his victories?'
'By his unServicelike, familiar ways, Sir,
He made the whole Fleet love him, damn his eyes!'


© Copyright Carcanet Press and the Robert Graves Copyright Trust.

Note: Nelson was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805; his 'lavish funeral' took place on 9 January 1806. The variant wording 'St Paul's' in the first stanza, in place of 'the Abbey' was made in Collected Poems 1914 -1947 and subsequent collections after James Reeves pointed out the mistake.
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