The Devil’s Advice to Storytellers

When I first set  up this site I searched for a header image and found the one I am still using. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it (see more here). I loved Vicky Hampton’s response to this (see it here). When I read her wonderful piece part of it rang bells.

Some time ago I e-mailed her and in the course of our exchange she mentioned one of the influences: Robert Graves’ poem “The Welsh Incident”. She also drew my attention to the superb rendition of this by Richard Burton (see here). Suddenly I was reminded of O level English and the “the Albermarle book of modern verse for schools”, volume 1! Well I have it on my bookshelves so off I go to look up the poem in my copy, the one I stole from school all those years ago … oops.

It is of course a delight and it was great to reread it nearly ½ Century later. BUT joy upon joy I discover another poem by Robert Graves above it on the page: “The Devil’s Advice to Storytellers”!!!!!! How glorious the ways of serendipity:-

Lest men suspect your tale to be untrue,
Keep probability–some say–in view.
But my advice to story-tellers is:
Weigh out no gross of probabilities,
Nor yet make diligent transcriptions of
Known instances of virtue, crime or love.
To forge a picture that will pass for true,
Do conscientiously what liars do–
Born liars, not the lesser sort that raid
The mouths of others for their stock-in-trade:
Assemble, first, all casual bits and scraps
That may shake down into a world perhaps;
People this world, by chance created so,
With random persons whom you do not know–
The teashop sort, or travellers in a train
Seen once, guessed idly at, not seen again;
Let the erratic course they steer surprise
Their own and your own and your readers’ eyes;
Sigh then, or frown, but leave (as in despair)
Motive and end and moral in the air;
Nice contradiction between fact and fact
Will make the whole read human and exact.

NOTE: I’ve slightly edited the published text to match Grave’ own performance which you can revel in here:-

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4 Responses to The Devil’s Advice to Storytellers

  1. Vicky Hampton 8th Mar 2017 at 1:51 pm #

    Thanks for the mention, Charlie. Who’d have thought an idle five minutes making up a conversation about a man in a black hat on a strange beach, would prompt so much!

    Love ‘The Devil’s Advice to Storytellers’ – didn’t know it but am very glad I do now – good ol’ Mr Graves! It’s given me an idea… think I’ll be using it with the poetry group I run, PIPs (Poets In Progress)…

    • Charlie Markwick 8th Mar 2017 at 2:02 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it Vicky. Wonder what the original artist would have made of all this!!

  2. Keren Hermon 8th Mar 2017 at 6:35 pm #

    Good to be reminded of They Dying of the Light at this time and to hear the Graves poem for the first time. Your picture there isn’t peaceful to me. The waves are square and bulky, containing threat and the man in black has his arms folded in a stubborn stance as the couple approach from the distance. He has been thwarted. They move inexorably forward into a future he won’t be able to share.

    • Charlie Markwick 9th Mar 2017 at 8:09 am #

      Thanks Keren. Isn’t fascinating how different people see different things in the same image? I never cease to marvel at human imagination.

So let me hear your story!?

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