City of Imagination: Kathleen Raine

Today is the anniversary of the death of Kathleen Raine, poet and Blake scholar, who won a number of prizes for her works (including a CBE in 2000) and continued to write a significant number of books until just before her death, a revised version of her Collected Poems appearing in 2000.

Raine (1908-2003) was raised in Northumberland, an experience related in the first volume of her Autobiographies, Farewell Happy Fields, and Ilford, Essex, before going onto study at Girton College, Cambridge. Her experience there was not entirely happy and, with a series of failed marriages and unrequited love affairs, she returned to the paganism of her childhood, for which the models were W. B. Yeats, Edwin Muir and William Blake. In 1980 she founded the journal Temenos, followed later by the Temenos Academy in 1990, focusing on the role of spirituality. At the time of her death, she was living in London.

The influence of Blake is most obvious in Raine’s critical work, notably the two-volume study, Blake and Tradition (1968), but also shorter studies and essays including Golgonooza, City of Imagination (1991), but Blake was also important to Raine’s creative work. For example in the second volume of her autobiography, The Land Unknown (1975) she described how Bertha Yeats confirmed her view of Blake as “a supreme teacher within an age-old tradition as that to which Yeats had also come” (Autobiographies 257-8).

This view of Blake as an esoteric, even occult, teacher was very much in evidence in Blake and Tradition, which traced a hidden tradition from the mythical work of Hermes Trismegistus through the works of Plato and the Enneads of Plotinus to the English Neoplatonist Thomas Taylor and hence to Blake. She was also one of the first critics to credit Blake’s development of Songs of Innocence to the influence of Mary Wollstonecraft and, in poems such as ‘Book of Hours’ or the journal Temenos, demonstrated repeatedly her particular debt to Yeats and Blake.