Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Kathleen Raine, the Destroyer and the Destroyed

The poet Kathleen Raine was born on this day, June 14th, in 1908. To mark the occasion, here is another article inspired by her autobiographical books.

One thing I noticed immediately is that, unlike many other victims of the creative spirit, Kathleen Raine made attempts to understand the occult forces and unseen influences at work in her life.

She learned from experience and took some responsibility for what happened to her:

Because I suffered I supposed that he had hurt me… an instinctive reaction, stupid and unjust for most often we hurt ourselves whether by imagining non-existent wrongs or in persistence in some mistake we cannot or will not see…”

She thought about the effect that she had on the people around her and realised that, while she had suffered immensely, she had also caused much suffering to others.  She knew that she had treated her parents cruelly –  in return for what they had done to her – and she also realised that obsessively concentrating on someone can have a damaging effect:

Perhaps he felt the longing dragging at him…the sense of another’s unwanted thoughts flowing towards one constantly…”

She came to understand that what happens to people in the outer world is often a reflection of what is happening in their inner world:

“… the world continually reflects back to us our inner states…”

Everything that befalls us has its cause within ourselves… another of those seeming miracles by which a change of inner disposition is followed by a corresponding change in the outward course of events…

Our being responds only to that to which it is attuned…”

Much of what she says is independent confirmation of the validity of conclusions that I had already come to and the truth of insights that had come to me.

Such introspection and awareness can be a two-edged sword. It may be less painful to remain in ignorance, especially if there are no second chances, no opportunities to put to use what has been learned or make reparations.  Sometimes it is a case of “too little, too late”.

Kathleen Raine had to live with many painful memories and the unwelcome knowledge that her insights gave her. In particular, there was the accusation that she was a destroyer of people close to her.

The destroyer
In The Lion’s Mouth, Kathleen Raine tells us that Gavin Maxwell once said to her: 

 “Tell me one single person who has been close to you in your life whom you have not destroyed – your parents, your husband, your children, myself…you are a destroyer Kathleen.

This accusation reminded me of other creative people such as J. M. Barrie, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and the deaths and devastation around them. 

The destroyed
Kathleen Raine lived to the age of 95, dying in 2003, but a long life such as this is not always an advantage, especially for people who have to live for decades with much bitter knowledge, many regrets and ‘if onlys’, and little or nothing good to offset it all with.

She was often depressed, and no wonder. She felt that she was a failure and that her life had been useless. Being a poet had sabotaged other aspects of her life; she knew that she had not been a good wife and mother.

Having to live for half a lifetime with mainly emptiness and regrets for close companions is one long endurance test. It is more existing and surviving than living.

There are many aspects to life, and being a famous poet with professional workmates, pupils, acquaintances or even friends is no compensation for a life of blank nothingness when it comes to close relationships.

Gavin Maxwell died in 1969, but their relationship was essentially over by 1956. Kathleen Raine never found anyone else to fill his place.

She had found a soul mate, someone who was her - very rare - kind, one of her people, only to lose him; her hopes had been raised only to be shattered:

The mutual recognition of beings of the same species, the same race, who meet in an alien world.”

For some people, this happens only once or twice in a lifetime, which explains the devastation caused by the loss.

 “I, having found the one being in the world who seemed to be of my own lonely species… thought that at last all sorrow was over, that I had come at last to that to which I had been born.”

This is asking for trouble; it is as if people are set up only to be knocked down; they are hit where it hurts most and destroyed.

 “…wounded at heart by what seemed (his) willful denial of a shared vision… “

It is devastating when a soul mate who seemed to feel the same way cools off and does a U-turn.

Dark angel at the barred gates – to paradise… bleeding, severed thread of my life…”

There is no recovery from the effects of losses such as this.

When asked how she wished people to remember her, Kathleen Raine said she would rather they didn't. This is very sad. Perhaps she would have changed her mind if she knew how helpful her autobiographies would be to people who are interested in unseen influences.

Gavin Maxwell with one of his beloved otters: