Here’s the relevant extract from the diaries of Irish poet Thomas McCarthy.
Graves wrote amongst other things, I Claudius and the classic 1st world war memoir .. “Goodbye To All That”
A sensational English Literature Society reading. Robert Graves came to visit us from Majorca. I sat beside him and his wife at the Oyster dinner. He said to me that Rupert Brooke was ‘the nicest of the Georgians’. He also said that ‘of that lot’ Winston Churchill was the only gentleman. He said that poetry is no longer being written in England but that he got ‘the sense of poetry’ when he landed in Ireland. I doubt this statement on poetry in England. Poetry is a natural occurrence in the population, very like a winter virus. England with its vast population must have at least ten times more poets than Ireland.
At the reception after his reading he was besieged by people. Very fatigued, with a face the colour of aluminium. He looked at the crush of students, then looked at me, the Auditor of the English Lit, and seemed very frightened. He expected me to do something, to control somehow the adoration of this Irish crowd. I went over, sat beside him, actually held his hand, and talked to him for a while.
Then Montague announced that I’ll be the first gardener-poet of Ireland. Graves looked up at him, wondering what this statement had to do with anything in the great poet’s life. For all his personal anarchy and independence Montague has a very academic, categorizing mind: he sees himself as the Exile-Poet, Heaney as the Farmer-Poet; and now he wants me, his student, to become the Gardener-Poet. He is happiest once a category has been settled upon. I find such categorizing really tiresome, even annoying. Maybe I’ll end up living in brilliant penury, like Michael Hartnett in Inchicore, and become a dark Urban-Poet.
One thing is certain, Robert Graves has never ceased to be the Servant-Poet of the White Goddess: the firmness of his poetic convictions is thrilling. He is exactly as he should be, exactly as his books The Common Asphodel and The White Goddess announce him: ‘The nucleus of every poem worthy of the name is rhythmically formed in the poet’s mind, during a trance-like suspension of his normal habits of thought, by the supra-logical reconciliation of conflicting emotional ideas.’
When Graves tells us that he’s been to heaven several times what he really means is that he has lived frequently in a territory where great poems are formed.
At one point in the evening, at dinner, Graves turned to me and said, ‘You know, Thomas, I have been to heaven.’ I thought he had taken too much drink, until he showed me his box (silver with what looked like an emerald set into the lid), a little box of hallucinogenic mushrooms that had been a gift from Carlos Castaneda. Graves’ wife slapped him on the wrist and said, ‘You mustn’t ruin that young boy with your dirty mushrooms!’ He returned his magic mushrooms to his pocket very sheepishly. What an old devil he is, what a pure, irresponsible lyricist of the mid-century! Still, his sanity is recovered every 10 years with every new version of his Collected Poems.
Later, at the seminar in the English Department, the immortal Graves was asked if he had any advice for budding poets. He answered, ‘Poets! If you are budding come into bloom!’