FORE-MOTHERS (by Kathleen Raine)

They were younger than I,
Younger by all my years, those country lassies
Who little dreamed their dreams
Of love would bring me here,
Travelling away from their accustomed days
Into this strange place, beyond their guesses
Of a future that might be
Some day, some far-off day
Beyond companionable kitchen and plain stone house
Under unchanging hills and a wide sky.

Deceiving dreams of love, that promise only joy,
It was to me you led, along a lonelier road
Than ferny loning where each lingered with the lover
She needs must choose, since he it was that met her on the way
And stepped into the circle of her dream
To carry her away, to carry me away
Into the exile of that dream’s awaking.

Or are my waking days the regions of their fears
Whose dark shapes were lurking, passions and griefs
Less innocent than those familiar songs of Scotland tell of:
And yet my dream tells still of Paradise.

EXILE (by Kathleen Raine)

Another beautiful poem by the late Kathleen Raine. “I asked of the rose only more rose, the violet more violet …”

Then, I had no doubt
That snowdrops, violets, all creatures, I myself
Were lovely, were loved, were love.
Look, they said,
And I had only to look deep into the heart,
Dark, deep into the violet, and there read,
Before I knew of any word for flower or love,
The flower, the love, the word.

They never wearied of telling their being; and I
Asked of the rose, only more rose, the violet
More violet; untouched by time
No flower withered or flame died,
But poised in its own eternity, until the looker moved
On to another flower, opening its entity.

Kathleen Raine’s THE ORACLE IN THE HEART (Review)

 

The opening line of this collection, “I who am what the dead have made“, leads us straight into the mood of the poet during the years when these poems were written (1975-78) as she was approaching her seventieth birthday. She sees herself as a word (“I myself the spoken word”, “Voices of wind and water / Have uttered us from the beginning“), an utterance of the past, of her ancestors, of the land they lived in (Scotland and Cumbria). Something it seems she turned her back on to a large extent, but now returns to.

What did I hope to find when I turned away from her …?‘ [her mother] she asks in one poem, and in another “Do I return / To the presence of the garden / The same, or not the same?”

And what did she find, what did she go through, while she was away? Is this it, in a poem called Christmas Children? “Little children running / Each in a paradise” among “London’s many-coloured fairy lights” and “Tangerines, sugar-mice, a star, / Here and now boundless / Their merriment.” But, she finishes, “the dark hells walk past them unseen.” Was that it? No, though it was there, as it is for all of us. For in other poems we find “yet this world, / Dark to the gods, how bright a paradise / When the heart loves …”

Another poem begins “Paris it was called ...”, was, not is, for to travel to this Paris she would need a time-machine.

Kathleen was above all a mystic. I will call her Kathleen here, for I called her Kathleen when we spent hours discussing Blake’s poetry and Blake’s form of mysticism. (And what I have in my hands is a signed copy of this book that I am reviewing now, years later.) Kathleen was a mystic and the great poems and prose of her middle years all give expression to this (or attempt to, for, like all true mystics, she knew it to be ultimately inexpressable), and here too we have lines such as this (from In My Seventieth Year):

It is enough, now I am old,
That everywhere, above, beneath,
About, within me, is the one
Presence, more intimate and near
Than mothering hands or love’s embrace
[…]

And since the utterance of the one
Majestic voice raised me to life
I am the part that I must play,
I am the journey I must go …

Which brings us back to where I began this review. At the end of the book is a small section of Short Poems, which is where you will find these gems.

“Ah, many, many are the dead
Who hold this pen and with my fingers write:
What am I but their memory
Whose afterlife I live, who haunt
My waking and my sleep with the untold?”

“I could have told much by the way
But having reached this quiet place can say
Only that old joy and pain mean less
Than these green garden buds
The wind stirs gently.”

“Young or old
What was I but the story told
By an unageing one?”

Perfect. Her name, and some at least of these poems, should be on everyone’s lips.