Saturday, 3 September 2011

"Harvest time" and the gifted Kathleen Raine

I only met Kathleen Raine once, shortly before she died. Even as an old person towards the latter stage of her life she carried a strong inner fire in her eyes. Beneath this wonderful old lady was an Initiate of Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light. A great critic, poet and writer, she did much to illuminate our understanding and appreciation of the works and lives of such giants as William Blake and W.B. Yeats. She was truly passionate about and very much influenced by both these earlier poets. The influence of Plotinus and a deep vein of Neo-Platonism also ran through her work.

Born in London at the start of the 20th Century, where she grew up, as a young adult she drifted rather erratically from job to job. Through one of these later jobs she chanced upon a meeting with a relative of the great Indian mystic Rama Coomaraswamy Tambimuttu, who invited her to contribute her poetry to his new magazine, "Poetry London". Getting involved in that magazine, she very quickly developed a lifelong passion for all things Indian. In some respects she was bitten by the same bug as Gustav Holst and Willie Yeats.

By her late twenties she was producing some very good poetical work. In 1943 she published her first collection of poetry, "Stone and Flower", which was illustrated by the fantastic British artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Three years later she released a further collection called "Living in Time," following this with "The Pythoness" in 1949.

She married twice, both experiences being particularly dull and unsatisfactory, leaving her to later describe the experiences as being, "as if I were living in someone else's dream.” Domestic bliss was clearly not going to be hers. Her unhappiness in these relationships led to a platonic romance with the writer Gavin Maxwell. Her friendship with Maxwell greatly helped to inspire her work in “The Year One, 1952”, which not surprisingly she released in the year 1952. Kathleen often stayed with Gavin Maxwell on the magical island of Sandaig in the Scottish Islands. Their relationship ended in 1956 when Kathleen lost his pet otter, Mijbil, who was later to inspire his best-selling book beloved by many British children, “Ring of Bright Water”. Later that year she published a book of poems called, “Collected Poems.”

In 1973 she began her autobiography which was finally published in 1977. Never one to rest one’s own laurels, three years later, in 1980, she founded her own magazine to help articulate her extensive and compelling world view. It was called “Temenos”. Since then it has grown into the Temenos Academy -
During her productive life Kathleen won several awards, including the Harriet Monroe Prize and the Queens Gold Medal for Poetry in 1992. In 2000, she was awarded the CBE - Commander of the British Empire. It wasn’t only the English who appreciated her work. She was won the Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize from the American Poetry Society, as well as being made Commandeur of L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Finally, in July 2003, she passed over to the other side for a well deserved rest – in some respects a young 95!

While I love many of her poems much more than the following one, “Harvest” seems the most appropriate one to share at this time of the year on the Malvern Hills.


Day is the hero's shield,
Achilles' field,
The light days are the angels.
We the seed.

Against eternal light and gorgon's face
Day is the shield
And we the grass
Native to fields of iron, and skies of brass.

~ Kathleen Raine

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