18 pages 36 minutes read

Robert Graves

The White Goddess

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1948

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


“The White Goddess” by Robert Graves was published in his 1951 book Poems and Satires. Graves also published a prose book The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth in 1948, and the poem of the same name was part of a period in Graves’s work where the titular figure became central to his artistic vision (1939-1959). “The White Goddess” comes somewhat late in Graves’s long poetic career; he began publishing books of poetry in 1916, and the last edition of his collected poems that was published in his lifetime was released in 1975.

“The White Goddess,” a free-verse poem, exemplifies Graves’s theme of the Goddess myth—the divine reasoning for the cycle of the seasons and the threefold nature of the Goddess. It contrasts Goddess worshippers with those who oppress them based on their beliefs and explores how human women are embodiments of the Goddess.

Poet Biography

Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, England. His parents were Gaelic scholar and poet Alfred Perceval Graves and Amalie von Ranke Graves, and he had nine siblings. Graves fought in World War I and was reported as being killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. However, despite severe injury, he lived a long and successful life after the War.

Inspired by his comrade-in-arms Siegfried Sassoon, Graves began to publish books of poetry in 1916, the first of which was Over the Brazier. After the War, Graves attended Oxford and became an English literature professor at the Egyptian University in Cairo for a brief period of time before returning to England. Graves penned a biography of T. E. Lawrence, which was successful enough to allow him to focus on his writing. He continued to write and publish poetry. He married Nancy Nicholson and had four children. After this marriage ended and his autobiography Good-Bye to All That was published in 1929, Graves moved to Majorca.

In Majorca, Graves worked with poet Laura Riding on several books, including the highly acclaimed I, Claudius. The two of them, now a couple, left Majorca during the Spanish Civil War, living in England, Switzerland, France, and America. Their relationship ended dramatically in 1939. When Graves returned to England, he began a relationship with Beryl (Pritchard) Hodge, and they eventually married after moving back to Majorca in 1946. Aside from a few terms teaching at MIT, Trinity College, and Oxford, Graves remained in Majorca for the rest of his life.

Graves continued to write and publish extensively until 1975, completing over 130 volumes of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and lectures. He presented lectures and readings in Greece, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Mexico, and Australia, as well as England and America. Graves was ill for the last 10 years of his life and died in 1985.

Poem Text

Graves, Robert. “The White Goddess.” 1951. The Poetry Archive.


“The White Goddess” is a 20-line poem broken into three stanzas. The first stanza has six lines; the second and third stanzas have eight lines each. There is a loose rhyme scheme where pairs of lines (e.g., Line 1 and Line 2), or couplets, rhyme. This structure is Graves’s invention that draws upon elements from several traditional poetic forms.

The first stanza introduces the titular Goddess. She is despised by saints and men who do not drink because they prize moderation. These supposedly virtuous men disapprove of the journey that the speaker and his companion(s) take to find the Goddess. They travel over the sea to the far away places where she is likely to be found. They want to know her more than anything else. She is elusive, related to visual and auditory illusions like mirage and echo.

In the second stanza, the speaker argues that their journey is virtuous. Categorizing their quest as heroic, the speaker describes the features of nature that they encounter. They search in a volcano and on ice. They also travel past a holy site in Jordan, the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. The last three lines of this stanza include descriptions of the Goddess’s features, focusing on color. She has blue eyes and lips that are berry-colored. Her hair is the color of honey, and her hips, as well as her forehead, are white.

The third stanza turns to the natural world’s reactions to her. In springtime, the forest’s greenery and the birds’ songs celebrate the Mountain Mother. The speaker contrasts this with their experience of her in November. Without the leaves covering her, her nakedness leaves the speaker and companion(s) so awestruck that they ignore the Goddess’s past unkindness and betrayal. This leaves them open to the next metaphoric lightning bolt.

Related Titles

By Robert Graves

SuperSummary Logo
Robert Graves
Guide cover image
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Robert Graves
Guide cover placeholder