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, William and Thomas. You might see one, or the other, 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. “Mallorca is paradise – if you can stand it”, Gertrude Stein reportedly told a young Robert Graves during an interview. 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 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 a few years ago. 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 Sunday, but open from Monday to Friday 10.00 h to 17.00 h, and Saturday 10.00 h to 15.00 h (April 1st to October 31st). From November 1st to March 31st, the museum is open only on Tuesdays and Fridays, 10h30 to 13h30.
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.
There is also a lovely book called Wild Olives, written by William Graves. This book not only presents Robert Graves from a different angle than usual, but it gives at the same time wonderful insights into life on this Mediterranean island in the Fifties and Sixties, and it is full of good descriptions of Mallorcan customs and traditions.
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.
P. S.: You may be interested to know that Ca n’Alluny, Robert Graves’ house and museum in Deià, will have a day of Open Doors in honour of San Juan Bautista, the patron saint of Deià, on June 20th, 2013, with free entry to the premises from 10h00 to 14h00. San Juan has strong mythological links with the Summer Solstice. Robert Graves placed a small altar with a statue of San Juan above the fireplace in the dining room at the time of the Summer Solstice.