ROBERT GRAVES’S OXFORD ADDRESSES ON POETRY (Doubleday, $3.95) contains the accumulated wisdom of a poet who has spent fifty years at the trade, and the hottempered enthusiasm of a beginner at it. Mr. Graves, professor of poetry at Oxford University, is just as opinionated and iconoclastic as Mr. Graves, independent resident of Majorca. It is a real delight to read his demolition of Virgil and his persuasive defense of such neglected worthies as Skelton and Raleigh. The book also includes reflections on receiving, for poetic achievement, a gold medal that wasn’t, and a discussion of hallucinatory mushrooms and their probable use in prehistoric worship.
RUTHLESS RHYMES FOB HEARTLESS HOMES (Dover, 75c) contains “ Little Willie and 48 other Poetic Disasters,”which prove to be the work of HARRY GRAHAM. It is a great surprise to me to discover that these happily bloodthirsty, indestructible verses have an author; probably everyone else has known it ever since 1899, when Mr. Graham first observed that “Misfortunes Never Come Single,”for
Making toast at fireside,
Nurse fell in the grate and died;
And, what makes it ten times worse,
All the toast was burned with nurse.
The second half of the book, More Ruthless Rhymes, dates from 1930, when Mr. Graham had mellowed into a regrettable subtlety which left some of his characters actually alive.
In THE REALM OF THE OREAT GODDESS (Prentice-Hall, $10.00). SIBYLLE VON CLES-REDEN describes the megalithic tombs and temples which are still scattered from Mesopotamia to the Baltic Sea and discusses their supposed connection with the prehistoric cult of the mother goddess. Miss von Cles-Reden is a hardworking amateur of archaeology and brings together evidence that is usually available only in disconnected fragments from scattered professional preserves. The text is short on clear indications of period and long on the phrases “was perhaps” and “may have been,” always followed by romantic, improvable speculation. Her descriptions of the structures themselves are excellent, and so are the numerous photographs. The drawings, unhappily, often give no indication of scale, and the book suffers from a wild collection of misprints.
WILLIAM S. MERWIN, an able translator as well as a notable poet, has put into English THE LIFE OF LAZARILLO DE TORMES (Doubleday Anchor, 95c), making the tough old Spanish classic into a thoroughly readable tale without obscuring the sixteenth-century setting or the picaresque point of view.
During SCOTT FITZGERALD’S last dismal years, when he was more or less script writing in Hollywood, he sold to Esquire a series of stories about a broken-down movie hack writer named Pat Hobby. These stories, which were strictly potboilers at the time, have now been collected as THE PAT HOBBY STORIES (Scribner’s, $3.50), and they are still potboilers — fast, slick, thin, and nearly all based on the same plot formula: the alcoholic and incompetent Hobby attempts a grandiose scheme to reestablish himself, and the scheme either backfires or succeeds in such an oblique way that Hobby fails to observe the fact. It is no service to Fitzgerald’s memory to pretend these stories are literary treasures, but they do imply something of the agony of his own position at the time, and the book’s introduction, by Arnold Gingrich, publisher of Esquire, gives a sharp, understanding account of the author’s troubles and the complications involved in dealing with him.
THE GRAVESIDE COMPANION (Obolensky, $4.50) is a collection of pieces about California murders, edited by J. FRANCIS MCCOMAS. It is a very disappointing book, considering the variety and interest of the crimes available, for some of the pieces seem to have been reprinted from publications dedicated to sensation and simplification, and all of them are written as though they were intended for the same.
DR. ROBERT BALDICK, Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, has translated well and edited severely PAGES FROM THE GONCOURT JOURNAL (Oxford University Press, $8.75), providing an introduction which gives a good picture of these strange brothers. Their interminable journal becomes infinitely more agreeable, and so do they, under Dr. Baldick’s drastic treatment.