ROBERT GRAVES’S COLLECTED POEMS (Doubleday, $5.95) are presented in chronological order, the first dating from 1914, the last written while the book was on its way to the press, an arrangement that illustrates the development of one of the most distinguished poets of our time, and certainly the most independent. Mr. Graves began with a small load of inherited poetical baggage — a pocketful of Celtic twilight and a couple of dried mermaid scales — but he quickly jettisoned it and over the years has evolved, refined, and polished a unique style, unrelated to any school of poetry and contemptuously indifferent to current fashion. While many of his colleagues devoted themselves to increasingly ornate representations of increasingly personal notions, Mr. Graves stuck to the old poetic constants, love, death, joy, sorrow, man, and fate, expressing them with fierce clarity and terseness. Where other poets write a tract of jungle, handsome but requiring that the reader bring his own machete, Mr. Graves writes a single leaf, carved out of diamond with each precise facet throwing a rainbow of meanings. “Ulysses" is a comment on the Odyssey, the limitations of love, the mysteries of female character, the engaging deceitfulness of men, and the poet’s struggle with his art, all together in twenty-five uncluttered lines. But try to alter a word, and it appears that dynamite wouldn’t budge it. The manner of Mr. Graves’s poetry is cool, but the mind that it reveals is warm, humorous, aware of the terrors of existence but stubbornly refusing to be cast down by them, dedicated not to the making of poetry but to poetry itself. “And call the man a liar who says I wrote All that I wrote in love, for love of art” is truth tossed off like a soap bubble.
LEONARD COTTRELL, an archaeologist with several books on the antique world to his credit, has now written one on HANNIBAL (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $5.00). It is partly an attempt to understand the character of the great Carthaginian general, partly an arcnaeological speculation (just where did he take all those elephants over the Alps?), and partly a ramble about southern France and Italy, for the author went over the ground where Hannibal fought the Romans, reconstructing battles and routes of march and local politics. The result is a very well written, thoroughly interesting book.
The mixture of motives that serves Mr. Cottrell well has done nothing at all for CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS, whose TRISTES TROPIQUES (Criterion, $12.50) is part anthropology, part adventure in the wilds of Brazil, and part religio-philosophical soul-searching, each getting in the others’ way.
SIDNEY PETERSON’S A FLY IN THE PIGMENT (Contact Editions, $1.95) is a fantastic novelette about a fly who escapes from his position as part of a Dutch painting and spends a day on the loose in Paris. This fly, having listened to art critics and gallerygoers for better than two hundred years, has a mind well stocked with scholarly jargon and unrelated facts. His meditations, interrupted by what he overhears on the radio and from the humans on whose hats he travels, are a mad spoof of the modern intellectual and his world. Fanny — he rather resents the name, but the press, happy with an event that must be either criminal or miraculous, has hung it on him — is a James Joyce among flies, and Mr. Peterson has written a marvelously hilarious book about him.
In THE MARRYING AMERICANS (Coward-McCann, $5.00), HESKETH PEARSON retells the stories of various international marriages, mostly of the period when it was as fashionable to buy up impecunious noblemen as Louis XV chairs. The book is by no means as amusing as most of Mr. Pearson’s work, for he seems never to have made up his mind about his subject. Too clever a man not to see the absurdity of the business, he is nevertheless mildly bewitched by the glamour of simple cash and Norman blood.
GREEK HORIZONS (Scribner’s, $6.95) is a prettily illustrated summary of Greek art and history by HELEN HILL MILLER. Written for the convenience of prospective travelers, it is, unhappily, rather schoolmarmish in tone and full of the kind of translations that put a reader off Pindar for life.