Friday, August 2, 2013

Kathleen Raine and Gavin Maxwell: curse or coincidence?

The poet Kathleen Raine was involved in an unsatisfactory and tempestuous relationship with Gavin Maxwell, the naturalist who later became famous for his books about otters. She cursed him after he pushed her to the limits of endurance; he suffered a series of misfortunes then he died.

I would like to believe that the misfortunes would have happened anyway, but after learning about the effect that some creative people had on those close to them I think that her ill-wishing actually worked. Poets are closer to the subconscious – or unconscious – and she was pushed right to the edge at the time.

One difference between this example and others I have written about from personal experience is that both of the people involved were aware that a curse had been launched, and one at least believed that it had been effective.

From articles I found online:

“Their relationship burnt itself out, however. Banished from the house during a raging storm in 1956, a weeping Kathleen Raine cursed Maxwell under a rowan tree:

"Let Gavin suffer in this place as I am suffering now."

"Within the next few years his pet otter was killed by a workman, his house was destroyed by fire, and he himself was diagnosed with terminal cancer.”  
- From an obituary

“Maxwell wrote: "Whether or not your curse has been responsible for this terrible disaster I don't know or should never know. If it was, I can only say God forgive you... Your Silver Stag [Raine's description for Maxwell] has indeed fallen - as you willed - and possibly beyond recall. If you really believe in your own powers of destruction you must consider yourself to have been successful at least twice."
- From an article about their dark love

"She had always believed that she possessed great and terrible occult powers, and in that moment of hatred, she had not doubted her ability to blight the years ahead of me."
- From an article about the rowan tree curse

“The agony that Kathleen Raine underwent thereafter, expressed in her poetry and prose, seems never wholly to have expiated her guilt for a curse that so rebounded on herself. As a woman, she reviled herself as loveless and destructive of other lives; as a poet, she castigated herself for not writing more, or better - for neglecting her daimon, as she called her gift and source”
- From an article about Kathleen Raine

Autobiographical references to the curse
Kathleen Raine produced three volumes of autobiography. Some of the things she wrote about life as experienced by creative people and her relationship with Gavin Maxwell resonate very strongly with me: I could have written it myself, although she expresses herself far better than I ever could.

In The Lion’s Mouth, the third volume, she goes into detail about the relationship and the cursing episode. It is very painful to read. The following extracts speak for themselves:

“A curse always recoils on the person who utters it…such an invocation cannot be revoked by the mere recovery of temper. It has a life of its own; when a passion is so powerful as to stir those depths, we awaken forces beyond human control…”

“…there are many murders besides those committed with arsenic or pistol…”

Arsenic and pistol may sound like the title of an Agatha Christie novel, but Kathleen Raine’s words confirm what many other people have said. Unseen crime, or psychic crime, exists; curses and cursing are real. When we are hit on a very deep level, we react from that same level, often with tragic and unforeseen results.