Tag Archives: Robert Graves

Watching the Feet

I have written, recently, about how coming across a memorable phrase can instill thoughts that lead to a poem.  Occasionally, the memorable phrase in question just happens to be a line in a well-known poem.  If that is the case, and you then go on to create a poem of your own, inspired by the line of a previous poet, then questions of “plagiarism” obviously come into play.  This happened to me when I first came across the poem “Counting the Beats” by Robert Graves (1895-1985).  Graves was famous for his novels (e.g. “I Claudius”) and autobiographical memoirs (e.g. “Goodbye to All That”) as well as his poems.  He was also the author of a fascinating, though perplexing, book about the origins of poetry: “The White Goddess”.  I admit to more than one attempt to read “The White Goddess”, but I found it impenetrable, and eventually conceded defeat.  His poetry, however, was much more accessible; he was one of the great love poets in the language.

“Counting the Beats” has a hypnotic rhythm.  It has a second verse that Graves repeats at the end:

Counting the beats.
Counting the slow heart beats.
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats.
Wakeful they lie.

Like “Counting the Beats”, my poem “Watching the Feet” is a love poem.  Anyone familiar with the Graves poem will immediately recognise the similarities in my poem.  I would deny the charge of “Plagiarism”, however.  I’ve only used the rhythms from his poem to create phrases and ideas of my own – and isn’t that what happens in the vast majority of poems?

Watching the Feet:

Watching the feet.
Watching the crow’s feet.
The tracks of experience she can’t disguise.
The wandering crow’s feet, around your lover’s eyes.

Thinking of her smile.
Her smile.  Oh, God!  Her laughter!
Intoxicating peals; enough to make you feel
immune to all disaster.

Thinking how you’d meet.
Excuses, pretences, untoward expenses.
It was all worthwhile, for her smile.

Watching the feet.
Watching the crow’s feet.
The tracks of experience she can’t disguise.

Wiping your eyes.
Trying to be wise.
Thinking how, like all things,
it starts, it stops, it dies.


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