The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine. (Verse).
KATHLEEN RAINE HAS chosen poems from her first volume, Stone and Flower (1943), to her twelfth, The Presence (1987), with the addition of nineteen uncollected and five short poems. She has omitted poems she feels never should have been published. Here is a signature collection of her work that will delight many and introduce her to many others. She deserves a very wide audience, as she has much to teach us.
"Poetry is only one aspect of the imaginative adventure of my life," Raine writes in her foreword. Born in Northumbria, the area of England north of Hadrian's Wall but below the Scottish border, she feels rooted to the country people who left the land for the mines and factories in the industrial era. In her fascinating three-volume autobiography, she traces that loss and describes the remnants of her Scottish heritage, the old speech and scenes of her childhood.
At Cambridge in the 1930s, she studied botany and moved in the fashionable intellectual circles dominated by the philosophies of French existentialism but was deeply out of tune with that world. Later, as a renowned scholar of Blake, Yeats, and Thomas Taylor the Platonist, she found her center in the Eastern philosophies of India. Her many books include the aforementioned three-part autobiography, studies of Blake and Yeats, collected talks, and a volume of her travels in India.
As might be expected, the long span of Raine's poetry moves from early poems centered on her love of plants and animals, romantic love and longing, through the war years to a middle period of French influences, thinking about the creative drive, the art and artists of her time, to meditations on age, illusion, a flash of joy, of first love remembered. Her personal religious journey was from a strict Protestant upbringing through conversion to Roman Catholicism to Eastern Vedic belief. From first to last, her poetry is unified by a tone of transcendental belief in visions, presence, angels, and oracles rooted in her Scottish mother's experience of nature. The final poem, "Millennial Hymn to the Lord Shiva," declares our age to be an age of destruction, "the holocaust / of civilisation," and she prays to Shiva "the purifier, the liberator!"
Short poems of four to eight lines from On a Deserted Shore (1973) are delightful, as are the chants, spells, and riddles throughout Raines's work. Memorable first lines are plentiful, such as "Your gift of life was idleness." And her poems find their way into the most unlikely places. Lucky the riders on the London underground who can hear her poems in the London "subway poetry" broadcasts!
Doris Earnshaw University of California, Davis