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?”
Those who crave innovation should look elsewhere, but Raine’s work will please readers with more conservative tastes.