Passion – Kathleen Raine
Though born in the town of Ilford (Essex), Kathleen Raine spent critical years of her childhood in Bavington, Northumberland which shaped the way she viewed nature. The main influences in her life were Blake, Plato and Eastern philosophy. Her personal life was marred by tragic incidents for which she held herself responsible. She studied natural sciences at Cambridge after winning a scholarship to Girton College but she was put off by the atheism, secularism and the modernism that she encountered there. She believed in the universal spirit and like Blake, believed that “one power alone makes a poet – imagination, the divine power”
This poem is about the sorrow and anguish the poet felt when she had been forsaken by a loved one. She longed for some communication but none was forthcoming. While so tormented, she suddenly ‘hears’ the sky speaking to her about her real identity. She was one with the universal spirit; the eternal mountains, the clouds and the oceans were part of her and the love she bore for them was more important than the unrequited love that was troubling her. Kathleen Raine was in love with Gavin Maxwell who did not reciprocate her feelings.
The poem emphasizes Raine’s belief in the universal spirit that all humans are a part of. She was deeply influenced by Blake, WB Yeats and Plato. She believed that a mystical life was at the centre of all that she did. The poet was going through a traumatic period in her life, she longed for some contact with the man she loved. But he did not call her or make any other attempt to communicate. She was heartbroken and broken in spirit too. She had lost all inspiration to write and human speech seemed to have forsaken her. Just as things appeared bleak the sky ‘spoke’ in clear tones of her connection with nature. Nature would nourish her and see her through this difficult period. Unlike humans, nature would never forsake those who loved her. Soon she was able to understand that the same spirit that permeated the natural world was in her too.
Line 1. The poet was burning with desire as she lay under the sky that seemed to hurt her.
Line 2. The clouds that were sailing across the sky seemed impersonal to her. Even the trees.
Line 3. Her soul lacked calm and tranquillity. There was turmoil and chaos within her.
Line 4. She was waiting to hear the voice of a loved one.
Line 5. She wanted the phone to ring but it was silent. While so waiting she felt her body go weak.
Line 6. She seemed close to dying of heartbreak caused by unrequited love.
Line 7. What the narrator was most familiar with was the language of human speech.
Line 8. This language abandoned her fingers and stayed beyond reach.
Line 9. It was like the ghosts of Homer’s Odyssey that lay like conches on the beach.
Line 10. At this point, the sky spoke to her unequivocally.
Line 11. This was as common as the heart and more familiar than the love that she was pining for.
Line 12. Speaking to her soul, the sky told her that she already had what she was pining for.
Line 13. The same spirit that permeates nature is also part of her.
Line 14. She is one with the clouds, stars, the wind and the restless sea,
Line 15. Like the hermits in the forest, she is one with nature.
Line 16. She can regain her spirit and be without fear.
Line 17. It does not matter whether she sleeps in a tomb or is alive and breathing.
Line 18. The same universal spirit that lives in a flower and the tiger is in her too.
Line 19. At these words she saw all that was visible.
Line 20. Turn eternal, with every cell that was on earth.
Line 21. Permeated with the sacred fire of passion.
Line 22. Her view of the world was as it would be on the Day of Judgment.
Line 23. When all strife would be at an end and the sky is clear.
Line 24. And the world is filled with everlasting love and brightness.
Passion is in keeping with Kathleen Raine’s philosophical leanings. She was a mystic poet who believed that everything on earth was connected and that the universal breath was in all of us. She tried to remain connected with nature and abhorred modernity in all forms. She was more impressed by Eastern philosophy rather than the Western way of thinking. In this poem too she talks of the peace she finds when she realizes that she is one with nature. Nature should not be viewed as a separate entity and nature will never forsake those who love her.