Raine, Kathleen (Jessie)

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RAINE, Kathleen (Jessie)


Nationality: British. Born: London, 14 June 1908. Education: County High School, Ilford; Girton College, Cambridge, M.A. in natural sciences 1929. Family: Married 1) the writer Hugh Sykes Davies (divorced); 2) Charles Madge (marriage dissolved), one daughter and one son. Career: Research Fellow, Girton College, Cambridge, 1955–61; Andrew Mellon Lecturer National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1962. Co-editor, Temenos, London, 1981–92; founded the Temenos Academy, 1992. Awards: Harriet Monroe memorial prize, 1952, and Oscar Blumenthal prize, 1961 (Poetry, Chicago); Arts Council award, 1953; Chapel brook award; Cholmondeley award, 1970; Smith Literary award, 1972; Foreign Book prize (France), for nonfiction, 1979; Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, 1993; Swami Vivekanand award of the International Institute of Indian Studies, 1994; D. Litt.: Leicester University, 1974; Durham University, 1979; University of Caen, France, 1987. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature; Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1994. Address: 47 Paultons Square, London SW3 SDT, England.

Publications

Poetry

Stone and Flower: Poems 1935–43. London, Nicholson and Watson, 1943.

Living in Time. London, Editions Poetry London, 1946.

The Pythoness and Other Poems. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1949;New York, Farrar Straus, 1952.

Selected Poems. New York, Weekend Press, 1952.

The Year One. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1952, New York, Farrar Straus, 1953.

The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1956; New York, Random House, 1957.

Christmas 1960: An Acrostic. Privately printed, 1960.

The Hollow Hill and Other Poems 1960–1964. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1965.

Six Dreams and Other Poems. London, Enitharmon Press, 1968.

Ninfa Revisited. London, Enitharmon Press, 1968.

Pergamon Poets 4: Kathleen Raine and Vernon Watkins, edited by Evan Owen. Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1968.

A Question of Poetry. Credition, Devon, Gilbertson, 1969.

Penguin Modern Poets 17, with David Gascoyne and W.S. Graham. London, Penguin, 1970.

The Lost Country. Dublin, Dolmen Press, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1971.

Three Poems Written in Ireland. London, Poem-of-the-Month Club, 1973.

On a Deserted Shore. Dublin, Dolmen Press and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1973.

The Oval Portrait and Other Poems. London, Enitharmon Press-London, Hamish Hamilton, 1977.

Fifteen Short Poems. London, Enitharmon Press, 1978.

The Oracle in the Heart and Other Poems 1975–1978. Dublin, Dolmen Press, and London, Allen and Unwin, 1980.

Collected Poems 1935–1980. London, Allen and Unwin, 1981.

The Presence: Poems 1983–1987. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, and Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions, 1987.

To the Sun. Child Okeford, Words Press, 1988.

Selected Poems. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1988; Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions, 1989.

Living with Mystery. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1991.

Other

William Blake. London, Longman, l951; revised edition, 1965, 1969.

Coleridge. London, Longman, 1953.

Poetry in Relation to Traditional Wisdom. London, Guild of Pastoral Psychology, 1958.

Blake and England (lecture). Cambridge, W. Heffer, 1960.

Defending Ancient Springs (essays). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1967.

The Written Word. London, Enitharmon Press, 1967.

Blake and Tradition. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1968; London, Routledge, 1969; abridged edition, as Blake and Antiquity, 1974.

William Blake. London, Thames and Hudson, 1971.

Faces of Day and Night (autobiography). London, Enitharmon Press, 1972.

Yeats, The Tarot and the Golden Dawn. Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1972;New York, Humanities Press, 1973; revised edition, Dolmen Press, 1976.

Hopkins, Nature, and Human Nature (lecture). London, Hopkins Society, 1972. Autobiography: 1. Farewell Happy Fields. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1973; New York, Braziller, 1977. 2. The Land Unknown. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Braziller, 1975. 3. The Lion's Mouth. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1977; New York, Braziller, 1978.

Death-in-Life and Life-in-Death (lecture). Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1974.

David Jones: Solitary Perfectionist. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1974.

A Place, A State, drawings by Julia Trevelyan. London, Enitharmon Press, 1974.

The Inner Journey of the Poet. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1976.

Berkeley, Blake, and the New Age (lecture). Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1977.

David Jones and the Actually Loved and Known. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1978.

From Blake to "A Vision." Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1979.

Blake and the New Age. London, Allen and Unwin, 1979.

Cecil Collins, Painter of Paradise. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1979.

"What Is Man?" Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1980.

The Human Face of God: William Blake and the Book of Job. London, Thames and Hudson, 1982.

The Inner Journey of the Poet and Other Papers, edited by Brian Keeble. London, Allen and Unwin, and New York, Braziller, 1982.

Poetry and the Frontiers of Consciousness. London, Guild of PastoralPsychology, 1985.

Yeats the Initiate: Essays on Certain Themes in the Work of W.B. Yeats. Dublin, Dolmen Press, and London, Allen and Unwin, 1986.

The English Language and the Indian Spirit: Correspondence Between Kathleen Raine and K.D. Sethna. Privately printed, 1986.

India Seen Afar. Green Books, 1990.

City of Imagination: Last Papers on William Blake. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1991.

Autobiographies. Scoob Books, 1991.

W.B. Yeats and the Learning of the Imagination. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1999.

Editor, with Max-Pol Fouchet, Aspects de Littérature Anglaise, 1918–1945. Paris, Fontaine, 1947.

Editor, Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London, Grey Walls Press, 1950.

Editor, Selected Poems and Prose of Coleridge. London, Penguin, 1957.

Editor, with George Mills Harper, Thomas Taylor the Platonist: Selected Writings. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, and London, Routledge, 1969.

Editor, A Choice of Blake's Verse. London, Faber, 1974.

Editor, Shelley. London, Penguin, 1974.

Translator, Talk of the Devil, by Dénis de Rougemont. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1945.

Translator, Existentialism, by Paul Foulquié. London, Dobson, 1948.

Translator, Cousin Bette, by Balzac. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1948.

Translator, Lost Illusions, by Balzac. London, Lehmann, 1951.

Translator, with R.M. Nadal, Life's a Dream by Calderón. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1968; New York, Theatre Arts, 1969.

*

Manuscript Collections: British Library, London; University of Texas, Austin; University of California, Irvine.

Critical Studies: Kathleen Raine by Ralph J. Mills, Jr., Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1967; Kathleen Raine issue of Agenda (London), 31(4); chapter on Kathleen Raine by Christine Jordis, in Le Paysage de l'Amour et le Roman Anglais, Paris, Seuil, 1994; "A Note on Kathleen Raine" by Peter Russell, in North Dakota Quarterly (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 63(1), winter 1996.

Kathleen Raine comments:

I began as a poet of spontaneous inspirations, drawing greatly on nature and fortified by my more precise biological studies. Though I was born in London, my poetic roots were in wild Northumberland where I lived as a child. Most of my poems have been written in Cumberland or Scotland, some in Italy, Greece, or France, but very few in London, where I at present live.

I have studied the symbolic language of Blake, Shelley, Yeats, Coleridge, and other poets of the romantic tradition who employ that language of analogy inseparable from the perennial philosophy, of which Christianity is our own cultural branch, that regards man as a spiritual and immortal being. Increasingly, in a materialist society, the meaning of words and the symbolic implications of traditional poetry become changed or lost. And this makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a poet of my kind to be anthologized with writers committed to another view of the nature of things. I have much sympathy for the young generation now reacting against materialist culture, but I am too firmly rooted in the civilization of the past to speak their language. Temenos is an attempt to reaffirm values that we regard as essential if the arts are to recover from their present decline, which we attribute to the loss of the imaginative vision—the sacred dimension—in an increasingly secular society.

*  *  *

The work of Kathleen Raine presents a difficulty for contemporary critics, not because it is difficult but because of the difficulties they have with an overtly philosophical poetry. After her first three books, Raine does not often "tell it slant." She is no Emily Dickinson, who was perhaps her most profound female predecessor in modern times. Again, Raine's Plotinism, Neoplatonism, and universal religious beliefs, which come through often in her poetry with—as Geoffrey Grigson put it, "the smell of dogma"—do not recommend her to many critics. But it should be added that she is also a victim of the modern critical failure that persists in seeing the poetry in terms of the poet, a critical habit that has proved judgmentally disastrous for the appreciation of the work of many poets.

Raine's first three books, Stone and Flower, Living in Time, and The Pythoness, often metrically more formal than later ones, represent her increasingly conscious struggle to escape various fashionable influences of the 1920s and 1930s. She was quite blunt about it in the introduction to her Collected Poems 1935–1980: "I have found myself only by a process of successive rejections. I had to tear myself free of the influence of Cambridge friends and contemporaries who had adopted the scientific and political attitudes so powerfully propagated in that university, as they were in Oxford." In this tearing free, Raine has paid a number of prices, some personal, some critical. With regard to the latter, it should be noted that, even today, many poets and critics consider her best poetry to be contained in her first three books. But it has to be said that this critic does not share that view, believing her work to have grown in profundity and interest, while agreeing that the early books often show a better craftsmanship and greater concrete immediacy.

Beginning with the aptly titled The Year One in 1952, her fourth book, Raine's meters became far freer than before. But unlike, say, Hugh MacDiarmid—who went through a similar sea change—Raine has never really lost her rhythm. There are two reasons for this. The first is that she developed an extremely distinct and, as it were, soulfull voice, a voice, as G.S. Fraser and others have pointed out, of great "purity." And the second reason for her rhythmical maintenance derives from her reading of Milton, Wordsworth, Herrick, Gray, Shelley, Coleridge, and Blake, to mention a number of detectable influences in her Collected Poems. It has generally been accepted that the likes of Coleridge, Milton, and Blake have influenced her thinking, her "content," but close reading of the poetry shows that she has quietly borrowed their rhythms too and made them her own. By this process Raine has been able to sustain rhythm in the otherwise amorphous forms of her later poetry. Since her early books she has employed not so much a free verse as a freed verse, one that uses rhyme in a deliberately patchy way, just as her line lengths tend to be irregular. But mostly she finds an energy of joy or grief to power the poetically necessary rhythm.

Despite being a poet of remarkable purity and ethereal imagination, Raine has produced work very close to her experience. And it is not only experience of books. Though she has patently been influenced by a motley crew of metaphysicians and philosophers that include the pre-Socratics, Plato, Plotinus, and Berkeley and, in modern times, Henri Corbin and Carl Jung, there is a strong, underlying lived experience as well.

Somewhere around the time of The Year One, after two failed marriages, there came upon her a powerful sense of sin:

This person formed
For sin, by sin?
How could these hands be mine,
Shaped as they are by all the ill I have done...

And this, soon enough, made her an adherent of the myth of the Fall. She is no Pelagian. At most there are the desire, increasingly informing her poetry, to return to Eden and the belief that

Man acts amiss, pure only the song
That breaks from the lips of love, or the wordless cry
When grief or pain makes mock of all that is human in us?

Although grief and pain—the note of lament rather than of self-pity—informs many of Raine's poems even into old age and there is never much real serenity, she is at her best with "the song / That breaks from the lips of love." And it was a great and failed love affair, recorded in her autobiography, that gave birth to some of her finest poems, especially "The Marriage of Psyche" with its famous line "He has married me with a ring, a ring of bright water." Increasingly from that poem onward, and maturing in what is perhaps her best collection overall, The Hollow Hill, the "pure" voice becomes human and, therefore, more personal, though without ever losing its purity. Excellent poems include "The Wilderness," "Last Things," and "Soliloquies upon Love." Indeed, "Soliloquies" illustrates as well as any poem the features that modern critics find both acceptable and unacceptable in this poet's work. First, acceptable because concrete and immediate, with that touch of scholarship today's savants love:

Young Athenians at a café table gesturing with nimble wrists
Have those full pencilled eyes, those profiles, lacking only
the beard of Odysseus…
Observed in cement-dust; a beggar girl walking like a caryatid
Alone in her misery as banished Electra,
Lingers in her exile at the 'bus terminus for Chalchis.

Then unacceptable because it is "too abstract," "too philosophical":

Love, blind to imperfection, sees only the perfect;
But from how great a distance the inviolate casts its images
Whose gleams upon our waters ignorance plunges after;
To a body a seeming that is not, whose being eludes
  passion's embrace.
No one has possessed beauty: how can we from an
  intellective dream of requited love?

Of course, both are integral parts of a single poem, and doubtless posterity's critics of greater breadth will not have the same hang-ups as those of today. They never do when a poet is safely dead.

At Cambridge Raine studied the natural sciences, and as Fraser observed, she learned "an exactness of natural observation" that often, if fleetingly, shows through in her poems, although it is mostly used only to underscore her philosophical concerns. Nature for her is not just physical placement and phenomena: "Inviolate sanctuaries of the heather and the bees, / The hair's form, the lapwing's nest, the high places of joy." For Raine nature is, in fact, the material incarnation of the divine "in leaves ensphered."

What I have described as a great failed love affair of Raine's life surfaced as a theme persistently in The Hollow Hill and The Lost Country, and it culminated in On a Deserted Shore, a long series of exquisitely poignant lyric poems. These are the high points of her freed form. They are so economical and intense, despite measurement more by eye than ear, as to be lyrics that live on the very edge of a cry. Two lines sum up the philosophy of these poems that finally are about unrequited loving:

All truths are lies
Save love to love in love replies.

The whole sequence constitutes some of the finest and most moving love poetry published in the English language, certainly in modern times. But once again critics have largely passed these poems by in their eagerness to dispose of Raine's views or to dismiss her work as "romanticism."

There is neither politics nor social realism about any of her work. As Michael Hulse wrote, "There is no hope of her noticing the litter of coke cans and cigarette butts in the Western Isles of Scotland" or anywhere else she sets her poems. Equally, as the same critic has pointed out, she is open to the charge of "poeticizing inversions" and "redeployed, tired symbols." But as Hulse finally admits, she "again and again creates beautiful poetry out of [her] intuitions." And can one ask for more?

After On a Deserted Shore came The Oval Portrait—in which Raine's poems to her deceased mother are as fine specimens of civilized, nonsentimental feeling as one could wish for—and other volumes, with a Collected Poems in 1981 and a Selected Poems in 1988. Her later work has appeared in the magazines Agenda and Acumen. Though avowedly poems of old age, there is no diminishment of their obsessive questing, their questioning of existence, or any falling off in energy. Indeed, they bear eloquent witness to that saying of Blake's, who is Raine's most admired mentor, "energy is eternal delight." True, there is much complaint of mortality and old age, but, like all of Raine's work from the beginning, the latest work continues to delight in its own special, enrhythming energy. So that like Yeats, another of her admirations, she remains poetically strong to the last.

—William Oxley

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Raine, Kathleen (Jessie)

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