The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Poetry Friday – Kathleen Raine

Posted on: December 8, 2006

The roommates and I were shovelling sidewalks, putting up lights and preparing for the Christmas Tree Decoration Finale. I took a break to tramp down to the campus library to take a peek at some Kathleen Raine poetry and one of the LBC nominations for Winter, Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones.

I need to own a copy of the Collected Poems. I wish I had more time to delve into Raine’s dense, potent, almost prophetic, philosophical…I’m running out of words. I can clearly see the influence of Blake and Yeats (of which the first is my favourite) but her voice is singular and, when you get to stuff like “Night Thought” or “The Red Light”, unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

It is way way too soon to pick a favourite collection, having barely skimmed the surface of her work. But Hollow Light is the one that pulls at me. (It was the Aristotle and the echoes of Blake’s “Introduction” from Songs of Experience in “Night Thought”.)

Night Thought

My soul and I last night
Looked down together.
I said, ‘Here we are come
To the worst. Look down
That chasm where all has fallen,
The rose-bush and the garden
And the ancestral hills,
Every remembered stone.
Of that first house
There is no trace, none.
You’ll never cross that burn,
Again, nor the white strand
Where lifted from the deep
Shells lie upon the sand
Or among sea-pinks blown,
Never hear again
Those wild sea-voices call,
Eider and gull rejoicing.
Turn away, turn
From the closed door of home,
You live there no longer,
Nor shall again.
You have no place at all
Anywhere on earth
That is your own, and none
Calls you back again.’

Soul said, ‘Before you were
I spanned the abyss:
Freedom it is, unbounded,
Unbounded laughter. Come!’

Or look at “Far-Darting Apollo”. It starts out so whimsily and happy-go-luck then it transforms into something far more profound, with darker implications.

Far-Darting Apollo

I saw the sun step like a gentleman
Dressed in black and proud as sin.
I saw the sun walk across London
Like a young M.P. risen to the occasion.

His step was light, his tread was dancing,
His lips were smiling, his eyes glancing.
Over the Cenotaph in White hall
The sun took the wicket with my skull.

The sun plays tennis in the court of Geneva
With the guts of Finn and the head of an Emperor,
The sun plays squash in a tomb of marble,
The horses of Apocalypse are in his stable.

The sun plays a game of darts in Spain,
Three by three in flight formation,
The invincible wheels of his yellow car
Are the discs that kindled the Chinese war.

The sun shows the world to the world,
Turns its own ghost on the terrified crowd,
Then plunges all images into the ocean
Of the nightly mass emotion.

Games of chance, and games of skill,
All his sports are games to kill.
I saw the murderer at evening lie
Bleeding on the deathbed sky.

His hyacinth breath, his laurel hair,
His blinding sight, his moving air,
My love, my grief, my weariness, my fears
Hid from me in a night of tears.

I admit that a lot of what I read had me intrigued but not fully understanding what she meant or was trying to get at. Some allusions go right over my head and some I grasp gingerly but have yet to fully explore as I’ve been skimming for the most part. I want to scribble and I cannot because it’s a library copy. Another book to add to the Christmas list.

I have not been this excited about a poet since Ted Hughes. (That was last week, admittedly but before then…ok it was Donne and Stevens around Sept./Oct. but Donne did not really count because I was familiar with a few of his greatest hits. Before then it was probably….I don’t know 2003/4 when I found Irving Layton. See?) A thousand thanks to Marly, who I found through Metaxucafe ( blogging about sex. Ha ha.

All right, I must rush off, pardon the superificial commentary but I had to put at least two of her works up before I dashed.


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