The White Goddess

by Robert Graves.Creative Age, $4.50.
Robert Graves warns his admirers that “this remains a very difficult book, as well as a very queer one.” Subtitled “a historic grammar of poetic myth,”it sets out to rediscover the “lost rudiments” of poetry and “the active principles of poetic magic that govern them.” “Mr. Graves’s proposition is that “pure poetry” has only a single language and a single infinitely variable theme. His fabulously complex exposition seeks to show that the ancient cult of the White Goddess and its attendant myths are the very substance of poetry, the White Goddess being the triple deity of Birth, Love, and Death, known as Maia, Aphrodite, Artemis, and by countless other names. The myths became garbled or disguised (whence this project) during the long struggle between the worshipers of the White Goddess and of the masculine (anti-poetic) deities who now dominate our civilization: “Pluto god of wealth, Apollo god of science and Mercury god of thieves.” Even if Graves’s bizarre thesis is discounted, there’s substantial profit to be had from his astounding erudition; his provocative interpretations of myths, riddles, and mystery cults; the incidental insights of an adventurous mind.