Brain Pickings

Advice to Lovers, 1919


“Love is not kindly nor yet grim / But does to you as you to him.”

Between 1919 and 1923, when he was still in his twenties, English poet Robert Graves (July 24, 1895–December 7, 1985) published a short-lived and radical literary magazine titled The Owl. The foreword to its first issue declared, “The Owl has no politics, leads no new movement and is not even the organ of any particular generation.” The magazine went on to publish works by established writers like Thomas Hardy, W. H. Davies, and John Galsworthy, alongside vibrant illustrations by some of the era’s celebrated artists.

The second issue of the magazine, published in October of 1919, featured a wonderful poem by Graves himself, titled “Advice to Lovers,” later included in the posthumous volume Robert Graves: The Complete Poems (public library) — please enjoy:


I knew an old man at a fair
Who made it his twice-yearly task
To clamber on a cider cask
And cry to all the lovers there : —

‘Lovers of all lands and all time
Preserve the meaning of my rhyme,
Love is not kindly nor yet grim
But does to you as you to him.

Whistle, and Love will come to you :
Hiss, and he fades without a word :
Do wrong, and he great wrong will do :
Speak, and he tells what he has heard.

Then all you lovers take good heed,
Vex not young Love in thought or deed :
Love never leaves an unpaid debt,
He will not pardon, nor forget.’

The old man’s voice was kind yet loud
And this shows what a man was he,
He’d scatter apples to the crowd
And give great draughts of cider free.

Complement with Graves on the importance of telling love and lust apart, then revisit this vintage guide to the art of wooing.

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