Friday, February 25, 2011

Gratitude to a poet



I first wrote to the poet, Kathleen Raine, at university. 


It was one of her books on Blake (Blake and the New Age) that had at school given me a key to understanding him. I used to feign colds, when bored, and take the odd afternoon off and lie on my bed reading this alluring, powerful and incomprehensible poetry, and getting shards of understanding. It was Kathleen's work that enabled me to begin assembling the shards into some resemblance of the whole I sensed but had yet to see (and to this seeing, as Yeats said, there is no end for Blake is a prophet: one who speaks out of the divine).


I loved her poetry and her autobiographies too. They spoke of a world that was mine: a common inheritance of all, obscured to us by our own limitations and that of the world's common, materialist assumptions.


I wrote and she replied and in her reply left the door ajar for further correspondence. For three years it flowed and then at the first Temenos conference at Dartington Hall, we met.


She was the central presence, I was a twenty something shy introvert of utter obscurity. I hovered near by on the first day until she, noticing me, turned and said, "And you must be Nicholas, I am carrying your last letter to me around in my handbag, like a talisman"! To which I had no obvious reply apart from gratitude (and surprise). For the remainder of the conference, she came up to me from time to time and asked: "How do you think our conference is going?" as if we were its sole architects! It was an extraordinary performance designed part consciously, part not to nourish a fragile young person's sense of self and it worked. It was part of a process of coming into myself, of flourishing.


I loved the way subsequently when asked a question I was never asked if I knew something but if I remembered. There was a dual matter at play here. On the surface the courtesy of assuming a common culture: who has not read Dante, for example? And if you have not would it not be better for you if you had. This enabled you always to pass off ignorance as forgetfulness. It is a delightful pattern of inclusion. The second underlying reality of the question is a Platonic one: all knowledge says Socrates is remembered: seen by the soul, obscured by the body (though Socrates actual threefold perception of our human reality is more complex than this simplification). We see beauty because we have known it - the world mirrors in part its know archetypal form. 


I used to go for tea, as well as continue to write, and it was a significant part of my education, my mentoring. I owe her a deep debt that I am now recovering after several years of partial neglect - like Dante part of me has been adrift in a dark wood (while another part of me has been nurtured into life - time for the two to come together methinks).


My favourite poem of Kathleen's:


The Wilderness


I came too late to the hills: they were swept bare
Winters before I was born of song and story,
Of spell or speech with power of oracle or invocation,

The great ash long dead by a roofless house, its branches rotten,
The voice of the crows an inarticulate cry,
And from the wells and springs the holy water ebbed away.

A child I ran in the wind on a withered moor
Crying out after those great presences who were not there,
Long lost in the forgetfulness of the forgotten.

Only the archaic forms themselves could tell!
In sacred speech of hoodie on gray stone, or hawk in air,
Of Eden where the lonely rowan bends over the dark pool.

Yet I have glimpsed the bright mountain behind the mountain,
Knowledge under the leaves, tasted the bitter berries red,
Drunk water cold and clear from an inexhaustible hidden fountain.

Kathleen Raine 

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