Kathleen Raine – British Poet, Scholar, and Mystic

Kathleen Raine, British author, philosopher, and mystic

Kathleen Raine (June 14, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was a British poet, scholar, and mystic. She is also remembered as a William Blake scholar, and wrote extensively on W.B. Yeats and Thomas Taylor as well.

She fought against the materialism of her time and turned toward the artists, writers, and mystics. In her later life, she founded the Temenos Academy, a school that offers courses and lectures on philosphy, the higher arts, and contemplation.

Kathleen believed that the purpose of great art and literature was to illuminate mankind to higher states of the soul, and that the inner experience far more than the outer.

She believed that the imagination was the true source of the great writings by authors such as Blake, Plato, Yeats, Dante, Samuel Coleridge, and Thomas Taylor. She saw art from the imagination as a gateway to other worlds beyond the veil of the human consciousness. She felt herself to be part of the other world and rebelled at this one.

“Alone I was all the earth as far as the horizon and the depth of the sky. Lacking nothing, desiring nothing but to be forever in that place of all the earth that was mine …”

“Children sense how precariously the phenomenal world is held together how thin the texture of its appearances how easily torn to let in nothingness.”  (Farewell Happy Fields)

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Farewell Happy Fields by Kathleen Raine

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Early life of Kathleen Raine

Kathleen Raine was born in Ilford, Essex in England. She was the only child of George Raine, a schoolmaster, and Jesse (nee Wilkie), who was Scottish. When she was very young, her mother taught her many Scottish poems and nursery rhymes.

Kathleen felt a kinship with the land of the north of poetry and fairy stories that never left her.  She felt that her mother and she were outsiders compared to others around them, belonging to the wild moors – like the Brontë sisters. Her mother told her that when she was young and walked on the moors, she discovered they were very much alive!

“I have never told anyone before, but I think you will understand.” It was simply that sitting among the heather near Kielder, Jesse Raine told her daughter,  “I saw the moor was alive” That was all. But I understood that she had seen what I had seen. (The Land Unknown )

Kathleen truly found herself when she lived with her schoolteacher aunt in Northumberland for some of the World War I years, sent there due to the danger of war and food rationing. Kathleen fell in love with the landscape of her surroundings. She had written poems about the desolate space beginning with “Let in the wind, Let in the rain, Let in the moors tonight” (Northumbrian sequence poems)

“In Northumberland I knew myself in my own place; and I never ‘adjusted’ myself to any other or forgot what I had so briefly but clearly seen and understood and experienced.” (Farewell Happy Fields

She never forgot Northumberland; the landscape stayed with her all her life. Her quest became a journey to get back to the place she knew as a child.

 

University and early writings

Kathleen attended college at Cambridge and studied science instead of literature because she felt to understand literature all one had to do was read the great books. Science kept her close to her other love, which was nature.

At first, she was very excited to be on her own, meeting other educated people. She attended a lecture by Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West and thought that she had never seen such beautiful women. She loved Shelly, Keats, and Coleridge, though these writers weren’t being studied at the time.

When Kathleen read “The Wasteland”  by T.S. Eliot she knew the college and some of the places she had lived had been a wasteland. She wrote:

“It was a shock to many of us who in his wasteland recognized our world, when it presently began to be whispered that T.S. Eliot was a Christian, what to us was mere reality to him the hell of  Dante, the state and place of those cut off from God.” (The Land Unknown)

Secretly, Kathleen wanted to be a poet and explore life and consciousness, as her favorite writers had done. She had a difficult time balancing a vocation as a poet with having a career. “I had never clearly thought about the difference between vocation and career or the practical problems of how to relate the two. I had not thought about a career at all.” (The Land Unknown

She had a terrible time when she graduated from Cambridge, unsure of what to do next. She even went on an interview with Virginia Woolf, trying to get work at the Hogarth Press. She wasn’t hired.

“Whereas  I wanted to soar, to be a poet, to live as a poet, to think the thoughts of a poet. I had not realized that Cambridge was no more of a place where such a vocation could be realized than was Ilford.” (The Land Unknown)

 

A complicated marriage and family life

Kathleen dreaded moving home after graduation and married more out of necessity than love. Her new husband, Charles Madge, was a socialist writer, and the couple had a son and daughter. She knew marriage to be a mistake, but felt like there were no other options.

Kathleen left Charles when she fell in love with another man. A Scottish writer Gavin Maxwell, was someone to whom she felt connected as a spiritual brother with her whole being. He loved Kathleen, but not romantically, because he was homosexual. 

She wrote about her love for Gavin in great detail in her book, The Lion’s Mouth. Their love felt like destiny, though he loved her as a friend. It brought her to great heights and tragic depths.

Kathleen left her children with a friend when she moved to London to try and find literary work. At this difficult time, she lived in a dingy boardinghouse, feeling separate from her true self and all that she loved. Kathleen felt herself to be on Dante’s journey to the underworld with no path before her.

“I lived as an outcast. Yet I did believe that every life is a way; that we are given each our own clue to unwind, a clue to lead us through the labyrinth so long as we never lose it. Never relinquish the living thread.” (The Land Unknown)

When T. S Eliot rejected her poems, Kathleen was devastated. However, she was able to find another publisher that loved her poetry. A Tamil poet who went by the name of Tambi, he was an editor and writer who started the magazine Poetry London.

Tambi encouraged her to continue writing her beautiful poems. Her first published book of poetry, Stone and Flower (1943), was illustrated by the noted British artist Barbara Hepworth.

Kathleen had to get a paying job and got work in the war department. She had a kind manager who respected her as a poet. She met Graham Greene and his wife, Antonia White. She also met Manya Harari, who helped publish Boris Pasternak and Teilhard de Chardin and was a great translator.

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William Blake by Kathleen Raine

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Discovering William Blake

Antonia White convinced Kathleen to become a Catholic. This only worked for a short time, as it was a religion that didn’t suit her. She realized she made a terrible mistake and knew that her heart was with Neoplatonism, Kabbala, and theosophy. When she discovered William Blake, he became her spiritual teacher: “Blake Now became my Virgil and my guide.” (The Land Unknown)

Kathleen went to the British Museum every morning to study the art of William Blake. The poet W.B. Yeats loved Blake as well, and saw him as a prophet and seer, not merely a painter. Yeats helped the rediscovery of William Blake; his research put him on the map. The study of Blake helped Kathleen come back to her true self.

“With amazement and joy I followed the windings of that mainstream of tradition and some of its tributaries; working upstream as Yeats had done before me, in the British Museum where I now spent my days. In the North Library where  I had at the time a desk piled high with strange books. I felt the golden string forming under my writing fingers as they copied wisdom.” (The Land Unknown)

Kathleen wrote several books on William Blake as well as books and journals on Yeats, Thomas Taylor, and Samuel Coleridge.

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Autobiographies by Kathleen Raine

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Later years and legacy

In her later years, she started The Temenos Academy, an educational facility. To this day, the school offers many lectures about spiritual ideas, philosophy, great artists, and higher consciousness. Anyone who is interested in these topics can join; there is a tuition fee.

Kathleen traveled to India and met with great teachers and sages there. She wrote a book about her experience in India titled India Seen Afar, which was to be her last autobiography.

Kathleen believed that every soul regardless of religion has a mission and that is to get back to the garden. She felt the human race is living in Milton’s fallen paradise, T.S. Eliot’s “Wasteland,” and Dante’s Inferno searching for home. 

Among the many honors she received were several honorary doctorates from Universities in the U.K., U.S., and France, as well as numerous distinguished awards for both her poetry and prose.

Kathleen Raine wrote that she took many bypaths, shortcuts but something was guiding her. The true garden is the garden of beauty and love. This is the place that poets and painters dream of finding. The garden is everyone’s destiny.

Contributed by Mame Cotter, who blogs at The Illumination of Art: “My name is Mary Cotter but just call me Mame. I am starting a blog again to find others who share my interests. I am into the arts such as painting, film, theatre and literature. I love children’s books and many of their illustrations. I love walking , daydreaming and thinking about our existence. My favorite filmmakers are Tarkovsky,  Bergman, and Dreyer. There are many incredible books, art and films that explore reality and higher dimensions. I am a secret bohemian artist that lives for art, spirit and nature.” See Mame’s piece on Margaret C. Anderson, Founder of The Little Review.


More about Kathleen Raine

Poetry Collections

  • Stone and Flower  (1943)
  • The Lost Country  (1972)
  • The Oracle in the Heart (1979)
  • Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine (2001)

Scholarly Volumes & Blake studies

  • Blake and Tradition (two volumes, 1968 – 1969)
  • From Blake to Vision (1979)
  • Galgonooza, City Of Imagination (1991)
  • The Inner Journey of the Poet (1982)
  •  Yeats: The Tarot and the Golden Dawn (1972)
  • W.B. Yeats and the Learning of the Imagination (1999)

 Autobiographies

  • Farewell Happy Fields (1973)
  • The Land Unknown (1975)
  • The Lion’s Mouth (1978)
  • India Seen Afar (1994)

Biography

  • No End to Snowdrops: A Biography of Kathleen Raine 
    by Philippa Bernard (2010)

More information

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