Googling Kathleen Raine

[This collage arose from reading a selection of Raine's poems in Penguin Modern Poets 17 (1970). Raine shared that volume with David Gascoyne and W.S. Graham, and that's not a random grouping, because the same trio had done a reading tour of the States in 1951, under the banner of "Three Younger British Poets". Raine had known Gascoyne since the thirties. All the other material is from online sources. MP]

    The clarity of the crystal is the atonement of the god.

    (from "The Crystal Skull", 1943)

Winsome "Kathie"

Kathleen's life had its pleasures, but much pain. She was beautiful and intelligent, and knew the passions of the heart and body as well as the immortal longings of the soul. At Cambridge, a group of young men hung around simply to catch sight of her. There were love affairs, marriages, partings... She was an adored only child; a photograph of her at eight shows a ravishing girl with grave eyes and long, light brown hair. Her Scottish mother, Jessie, sang her the border ballads and wrote down her poems before she could hold a pencil herself. Her father, George, a miner's son, went to Durham University, and became an English teacher and Methodist lay preacher. Though she was born in London, during the first world war she lived in Bavington, a Northumbrian hamlet, where she was "Kathie", a country child. For the rest of her life, this became her touchstone of wild beauty, simplicity and innocence; everywhere she went, she sought what she had known and lost there.

After Cambridge, Kathleen married: because, as she admitted in her autobiography, she had no idea what else to do. The marriage - to Hugh Sykes Davies - failed; she eloped with Charles Madge (obituary, January 24 1996), who conceived Mass Observation [a sociological research project], and with whom she had a son, James, and daughter, Anna. But she left this marriage, too, caught in a sensual passion for a man who did not care for her. The love of her life was the homosexual Gavin Maxwell. She believed they shared all she held dearest in life. His grandfather was the Duke of Northumberland; her grandmother had sat behind his in Kielder Kirk, "admiring her coils of shining hair". He and Kathleen were at one in their love for that place, for his hut at Sandaig on the west Highland coast, and for Mijbil, the otter he had brought from the Euphrates. But the relationship was doomed.

Once, at his request, they shared a bed, without sexual contact. "Every night of my life, since then, I have spent alone," she wrote in The Lion's Mouth (1977), her third volume of autobiography. In it, she tells their story with surgical honesty, not avoiding what she came to see as her most terrible act, the words she spoke in her despair by the rowan tree on Sandaig that had symbolised for her the eternal quality of their bond: "Let Gavin suffer in this place, as I am suffering now." Maxwell's beloved Mij was killed, for which Kathleen blamed her negligence; his house on Sandaig burned down. He endured other losses and failures, and died prematurely of cancer in 1969.

(from Janet Watts, Guardian obituary of Kathleen Raine (1908-2003))

    I saw on a bare hillside an ash-tree stand
    And all its intricate branches suddenly
    Failed, as I gazed, to be a tree
    And road and hillside failed to make a world

    (from "The Mirage", 1951)

An undergraduate’s view (Oct 1954)

When we arrived at the house, [W] walked straight in, and of course I had to follow. His friend Gavin was seated there talking earnestly with a woman as we entered. ([W] told me later that this was Kathleen Raine, who is apparently quite well known as a poet. But there was an expression on Gavin's face which seemed to be rebuking us for the intrusion. He relented however, and drinks were offered - although Kathleen Raine continued to look as if it were impolite of us to have stolen some of his attention away from her.

Gavin Maxwell had some work of his own to finish, but Kathleen Raine came on to the lecture with us, accepting a lift in [W]'s car. But [W] may have gulped down one too many - and having a rather small body, he does seem to show the effects of drink rather more quickly than others that I know. Anyway his conversation was becoming more peculiar every minute - reverting to the subject of having to obtain the right kind of dents in an accident to his car, but now creating a vivid impression of it all being just about to happen - driving up on the pavement, and round the other side of a lamppost, with exclamations of excitement thrown in for good measure. I was in fits of laughter, but the elderly poet-lady appeared much on edge, endeavouring to restore a semblance of intellectual fibre to the conversation. I noted at one point that she was suggesting something about Blake's symbolism. But [W] was giving her no encouragement whatsoever, talking instead about running over policemen and playing bumper-cars. So finally she froze into an icy silence. And as soon as we arrived at the hall where the lecture was to be delivered, she jumped out of the car and ran in ahead of us. That was the last we saw of her in fact.

(later the same evening...)

Then [W] took me to a restaurant club which he declared to be Gavin Maxwell's favourite haunt. I was curious to see that Gavin was pleased to see us this time, when we arrived. For whatever reason, there was now a complete switch in mood and he was now quite welcoming. In fact I enjoyed the meal very well, striking chatterbox form. I liked to suppose that I was becoming the focal point for the attention of these two distinguished intellectuals!

(Alexander Thynne's diary - the author was in his second year at Oxford and was then Viscount Weymouth, later Lord Bath)

    There is stone in me that knows stone,
    Whose sole state is stasis
    While the slow circle of the stars whirls a world of rock
    Through light-years where in nightmare I fall crying
    'Must I travel fathomless distance for ever and ever?'
    All that is in me of the rock, replies
    'For ever, if it must be: be, and be still; endure.'

    (from "Rock", 1951)

Giving with one hand

There is no doubt that the quality of these preoccupations and the pure underivative language in which they are expressed have resulted in some very fine poems ("Shells," "The Invisible Spectrum," "Air") which prove Miss Raine to be one of the most serious living English poets - serious, that is, in the sense of utter devotion to her vision.

(Philip Larkin, from a Guardian review of Raine's first "Collected", 1956)

    Scipio saw Carthage there, how small a spot
    Among those seas and continents, but blotting out all galaxies
    When to the assault he came which razed from time
    Dido’s bright palaces.

    (from "The Eighth Sphere", 1965)

The Queen Mother (early 1980s)

The Temenos experiment was hardly mainstream, and it was funded at first by the sale of paintings and occasional donations, for Dr Raine was not wealthy. But she was surrounded by friends, and the sufferings and religious searching of her earlier life seemed now to bear fruit in a cultural movement centred around her house in Chelsea, where her superb hospitality is remembered by everyone who knew her. David Gascoyne, Vernon Watkins, Jeremy Reed, Thetis Blacker, George Mackay Brown, John Michell, Peter Redgrove, John Tavener and Keith Critchlow were among those who published regularly in her journal, and after ten years the movement found its patron in the Prince of Wales, who offered continuing hospitality for the Temenos Academy after 1999.

(from Stratford and Léonie Caldecott, Kathleen Raine: A Challenge to Catholics in Second Spring: a Journal of Faith and Culture)

    The helix revolves like a timeless thought
    Instantaneous from apex to rim
    Like a dance whose figure is limpet or murex, cowrie or golden winkle.

    They sleep on the ocean floor like humming-tops
    Whose music is the mother-of-pearl octave of the rainbow

    (from "Shells", 1951)

Punch and counter-punch

GL: Would you be a poet again in your next life?
KR: Oh no! No.
GL: Why? Because you've done it already?
KR: I've done it already. I don't have much faith in poetry.
GL: You don't have much faith in poetry?
KR: At one time poetry implied that the poet was contributing a special kind of wisdom, passing a judgment of the values of eternity on the values of time. But now poetry seems to be just writing down whatever comes into your head. Any idea of poetic tradition and poetic technique has totally been thrown out.
GL: When do you think the change happened?
KR: With the modern movement, which is basically a materialist movement. The idea that there is a spiritual order on which poetry is supposed to draw is completely gone from our civilization. It's just not there anymore...
GL: ... You say the modern movement, and I'm trying to place that. Do you mean the poets of the thirties, the socially conscious poets, Auden...?
KR: Well, it's the gradual loss you see. Eliot's poetry is a lament for the loss of tradition. But people went on cheerfully after that and said "Oh well, we don't need tradition. We reject the follies of our parents. We'll write free verse and don't need to know anything." So we get poetry as self-expression, as therapy, social or political poetry. Or moaning about the universe. I don't know why we should moan about the universe. I think it's wonderful.
GL: What advice would you give a poet today?
KR: I'd say forget it, and do philosophy instead. Or learn history. Start to learn things. Temenos, after all, is trying to reestablish true knowledge. You see, you can't write poetry when there's no one who'll read it intelligently. There has to be an ambiance in which you can communicate. Otherwise you're talking to yourself.

(from an interview with Gary Lachman for Lapis Magazine, 1997)

Her activity as a propagandist and critic of modernity has been considerably less enlightened. Interviewed at the age of 84, she was still smarting at conversations of 60 years before, and replaying them without being able to persuade the reader that she had understood the other person or was giving a fair account of their position. Her religiosity is astonishingly self-serving, it seems to be little more than a way of invalidating people who are more intelligent than her and who pointed out at various stages of her life that she wasn't intelligent enough...In some remarkable autobiographical interviews, Raine has recalled how, as an undergraduate, she was laughed at by everyone for her stupidity, and how everyone around her was more intellectually sophisticated; impressed by this, she nonetheless found her way to spiritual verse in a stanzaic form derived from the nineteenth century (or do I mean the sixth century?). The statements are remarkable for their frankness in admitting that she was wrong about everything, and for their arrogance in assuming that she was right about everything that mattered, and everyone else was wrong. Again and again she hammers home the message about thinking being bad for you; a kind of mispronunciation of 'I am bad at thinking'... Close examination of claims may seem 'cynical' and 'materialistic', but where someone makes such appalling accusations against other people, one has to examine the evidence. She is unique in the scurrility of her claims about other people, in this scenario of purity and defilement, and in her image of English poetry as two opposing camps...

(from Andrew Duncan, online essay on four Christian poets in

    A dying seabird standing where the burn runs to the shore
    Between rank leaves and rough stone,
    Its nictitating membrane down
    Over eyes that knew a wild cold sky,
    Head indrawn,
    Into neck-plumage and wing pinnae furled,
    Disturbed in its dying becomes for the last time a gull,
    Opens eyes on the world,
    Brandishes harsh bill
    And then withdraws again to live its death
    And unbecome the gull-mask it was.

    (from "The Hollow Hill", 1965)


By Michael Peverett

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