January 25, 2020

Very Strange Creatures Indeed

        Here is another poem (from 1929) by Robert Graves.  This has no rhyme or rhythm, being written purely in the form of a conversation, and it belongs to a more humorous, colloquial school.  It is entitled Welsh Incident, and that’s exactly what it describes: an incident.  There seems to be no greater point or moral than just the fun of it.

“But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.”
“What were they? Mermaids? dragons? ghosts?”
“Nothing at all of any things like that.”
“What were they, then?”
“All sorts of queer things,
Things never seen or heard or written about,
Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to touch,
Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
All various shapes and sizes and no sizes,
All new, each perfectly unlike his neighbour,
Though all came moving slowly out together.”
“Describe just one of them.”
“I am unable.”
“What were their colours?”
“Mostly nameless colours,
Colours you’d like to see; but one was puce
Or perhaps more like crimson, but not purplish.
Some had no colour.”
“Tell me, had they legs?”
“Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.”
“But did these things come out in any order?
What o’clock was it? What was the day of the week?
Who else was present? What was the weather?”
“I was coming to that. It was half-past three
On Easter Tuesday last. The sun was shining.
The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog Jesu
On thirty-seven shimmering instruments,
Collecting for Carnarvon’s (Fever) Hospital Fund.
The populations of Pwlheli, Criccieth,
Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc, Penrhyndeudraeth,
Were all assembled. Criccieth’s mayor addressed them
First in good Welsh and then in fluent English,
Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
Welcoming the things. They came out on the sand,
Not keeping time to the band, moving seaward
Silently at a snail’s pace. But at last
The most odd, indescribable thing of all
Which hardly one man there could see for wonder
Did something recognizably a something.”
“Well, what?”
“It made a noise.”
“A frightening noise?”
“No, no.”
“A musical noise? A noise of scuffling?”
“No, but a very loud, respectable noise –
Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning
In Chapel, close before the second psalm.”
“What did the mayor do?”
“I was coming to that.”

        Some of the descriptions of “no sizes” and “no colour” remind me of something from Douglas Adams.  At any rate, it wouldn’t be possible to provide you with an illustration of this scene, indescribable as it is, so I have contented myself with including a single one-eyed two-legged sea dragon from Ulisse Aldrovandi, which seems to capture at least something of the spirit (even if it does have legs).

[Picture: Draco marinus monophtalmos bipes, wood block print from Monstrorum historia by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1642 (Image from University of Oklahoma).]


Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Anne! I’ve never come across this poem before. For me, Robert Graves has always been about folklore, as well as the Claudius novels and another one, Homer’s Daughter, the Odyssey seen from the viewpoint of Nausicaa. But of course, he was also known as a poet, I’d forgotten that.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Ah, you reminded me that I had forgotten to link to the other poem by Graves that I had posted before. It's got a very different feel. I've now added the link in the opening line of this post.