On a recent visit to Deià I went to the parish church cemetery there.
There may be lots else to do in Deià, but I had a particular fancy to find the grave of Robert Graves. It took me a while though, which was probably my own mistake as I was looking for a proper grave, and what I eventually found was a large, crude, ceramic slab on the ground. I was somewhat disappointed about the poor and sparse, almost pathetically provisional appearance, but one can only assume that perhaps this was what the man himself might have wished for.
This eccentric British writer and poet of some 140 books who had made Mallorca his home on and off for over 46 years was born in Wimbledon in 1895. As you all may know he died in Deià in 1985, aged 90. Two of his sons still live there to this day. You might see one, or the other one, in the local Deià market, or else in Palma, perhaps at the Literanta bookshop.
It took me even longer to find Beryl Hodge’s resting place. Graves’ second wife died in 2003. She does not appear to have been given a proper grave in Deià; all that I found was a wall plaque, again very sedate.
Robert Graves had come to Mallorca and the village of Deià with fellow poet Laura Riding, in October 1929, having just separated from his first wife, Nancy Nicholson. Here in Deià, Graves built a house, Ca n’Alluny, and established himself as a full time writer for the first time in his life. For his simple lifestyle, he was soon labeled as the 20th century’s first Robinson Crusoe poet. With the hostilities of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 however, Robert and Laura were obliged to abandon Mallorca and move back to London after only seven years. With Europe in ruins and his beloved son David just deceased and also with a severe dissatisfaction with England, Graves and his second wife, Beryl Hodge, as well as their three remaining children, returned to Mallorca and Deià again. In 1946, they were able to return to Graves’s house and they resided there until his death in 1985.
Ca n’Alluny, Robert Graves’ house in Deià, has been turned into a museum which opened earlier this year. You may have no desire to go to the cemetery in Deià, but you may enjoy a trip to a great writer’s erstwhile home. Not quite like Ernest Hemingway’s country retreat outside La Habana, but then Hems never was into the sparse lifestyle of Robinson Crusoe either. And whilst Graves liked his vino tinto, there is no evidence that he would have been heavily into Mojitos or even Daiquiries.
The Robert Graves museum is closed on Monday, but open from Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 h – 17.00 h and Sunday 10.00 h – 15.00 h.
It seems perhaps that Robert Graves is more venerated amongst his British audience for his novels and biographical books. ‘I, Claudius’, ‘Good-bye to All That’, ‘Wife to Mr. Wilton’ and ‘The Golden Fleece’ are amongst his most successful fictional works, often with a historical setting. In Spain however, Graves seems more applauded for his poetry.
Spain is a country whose citizens have a deep nurturing of poetry and of contemporary verse at that, which to me seems almost unequalled amongst other European nations.
If your command of the Spanish lingo is up to it, why not try the small volume of ‘Poemas’, with 66 poems by the Maestro. Published by Pre-Textos, 30 €. Poems are printed here in their original English version, with a competent Spanish translation en-face on the opposite page. A meaningful way of helping your language skills along, in case you live in a Spanish speaking country. And in case your Spanish fails you, ‘Between Moon and Moon’, in English, is a book of some very readable selected correspondence, covering the years between 1946 and 1972.
“Mallorca is paradise – if you can stand it”, Gertrude Stein reportedly told a young Robert Graves during an interview.
Well, we are told that the ‘I, Claudius’ author did like his paradisiacal retreat from the world, and if you visit Ca n’Alluny, you might glimpse why, for yourself.