Books by Kathleen Raine

Released: Feb. 1, 2001

"Those who crave innovation should look elsewhere, but Raine's work will please readers with more conservative tastes."
Quiet strength and humility infuse the oeuvre of this British nonagenarian, whose first book of verse appeared in 1943—although this volume really should have been called "selected," as the poet has chosen to exclude many poems from the books that comprise it. Raine is a scholar of Blake, and his influence upon her work is subtly evident. Nature is her preferred subject—earth, water, and air are the elements most often invoked; fire (both literal and figurative) is the least utilized medium. The "water" poems tend to be the most satisfying, their language rich and evocative. Her work approaches the beauty of Amy Clampitt's when she describes in "Moving Image" a "glass-clear sea / Where in the heave of wave aurelia pulse with dim life / Unknown to the drifting tangle of algae green and red." A tacit feminism is everywhere apparent: references to such mythological figures as Eurydice, Persephone, Venus, Mary, and Psyche abound and her forays into spells and incantations (notably those taken from her 1952 collection, The Year One) are potent without being hokey. In "Woman to Lover," she declares, "I am air / Caught in a net, / I am a crown of stars, / I am the way to die." Unfortunately, too many sentimental poems about roses and dreams undermine the collection, though an exception is the powerful booklength poem "On a Deserted Shore," included in its entirety. Its numerous references to dreams augment its dark, ephemeral beauty: "Whisperer in the wind— / From what dream do you look upon this shore / Grown strange and fair and far?"Read full book review >
INDIA SEEN AFAR by Kathleen Raine
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Aug. 13, 1991

In the disappointing third volume of her autobiography (Farewell Happy Fields, 1977; The Land Unknown, 1975), the renowned English poet and scholar reflects upon the last years of her life, as viewed through the prism of India. Raine was 74 when she first visited India but she immediately felt as if she had come ``home.'' She writes both of the interior ``India of the Imagination''—``the place of every arrival, the term of every spiritual quest''—and of the exterior India, a land of ``sculptures and temples and dance and marvelous clothes and jewels and paper birds and garlands of stephanotis and marigolds offered to gods without number.'' It is the ``India of the Imagination'' that Raine treasures most, and yet when discussing spiritual matters, she is either disappointingly dense and obscure or else obvious and facile; there are very few moments of insight here. Raine also has the annoying habits of dropping names that will mean little to most readers (her descriptions of the many conferences she attends are particularly stultifying) and of coyly putting herself down (``I have never been sure that I had the right to be a poet''). Only when she turns to physical descriptions of India does her prose truly come to life. Some of her observations are resonant with beauty; they reveal a deep feeling for India, spiritual or otherwise, that eludes her elsewhere (``We were served...by a beautiful grave little boy with a ragged turban who poured our water for us like Ganymede himself, and served the lime pickle with his fingers''). Though there are many poetic moments scattered throughout, much is sluggish and opaquely esoteric, resulting in self-absorbed work likely to appeal primarily to Raine fans. Read full book review >