Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.
Repeat "impossible men": not merely rustic,
Foul-tempered or depraved
(Dramatic foils chosen to show the world
How well women behave, and always have behaved).
Impossible men: idle, illterate,
Self-pitying, dirty, sly,
For whose appearance even in City parks
Excuses must be made to casual passers-by.
Has God's supply of tolerable husbands
Fallen, in fact, so low?
Or do I always over-value woman
At the expense of man?
It might be so.
Robert Graves (1895-1985) was one of the finest lyric poets of the 20th century in any language. He wrote delightful light verse, too. The first link below will let you hear him read this poem at Hunter College in New York in December 1966. There's also a recording of the majestic "To Juan at the Winter Solstice."
- AUDIO: Robert Graves reads "A Slice of Wedding Cake"
- A 1969 interview with Paris Review
- Michael Longley on Graves' Selected Poems
- Graves' home in Mallorca - now a museum