Kathleen Raine, poet of the past or of times to come? International Conference: A Homage to Kathleen Raine
Call for papers
Kathleen Raine, poet of the past or of times to come?
International Conference: A Homage to Kathleen Raine
We are delighted to confirm that the international conference in Homage to Kathleen Raine will be held in person at the Sorbonne and at the research center of the Sorbonne Nouvelle on March 24 and 25, 2022. The call for papers (see below) has been extended to October 31, 2021. You will find all the necessary information on the conference website.
Proposals can be submitted directly on the conference website or sent (as well as any queries) to:
Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) was a British poet whose life spanned the 20th century but whose work was in opposition to her time. Nourished by nature and poetry, but also by philosophy, this unconditional defender of the Imagination plunged into the heart of a world of conflict and materialistic ideologies delivers an art and a message that is much more audible today, it seems. One may thus wonder where to place Kathleen Raine's work: upstream, with the Romantics, or downstream from her time, in a kind of naturo-mystical avant-garde, or even ecopoetry? Does she belong to a bygone era, is she the heir to an obsolete tradition, or on the contrary does she assert herself as a resolute prophet and visionary? What can be said about this "bardic" voice of a woman isolated in a world where the voice of male poets prevails? And how did she evolve among such literary figures as C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Lowry, Gavin Maxwell, and Elias Canetti?
The aim of this international symposium is to put into perspective a complex and sometimes paradoxical work and to evaluate its significance for the present and the future. Here are some of the approaches envisaged:
1/ Kathleen Raine and France
Her autobiographical and poetic work became known at the end of the 1970s and during the 1980s thanks to the editor and translator François-Xavier Jaujard and the publishing house Granit. In 1979, Kathleen Raine received the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (the forerunner of the Médicis) for Adieu Prairies Heureuses (Farewell Happy Fields), the first volume of her autobiography. Collections of poetry followed under the titles Pierre et Fleur (Stone and Flower) and Isis errante (Wandering Isis), in 1978 and Le Premier jour (The Year One) in 1980. A 1989 translation of The Presence was published by Verdier in 2003. Kathleen Raine was a keen reader of French literature and she also translated works by Denis de Rougemont, Honoré de Balzac and, more recently, Jean Mambrino. During the 1980s and 1990s, she travelled to Paris on several occasions to speak at the British Council, the Sorbonne and the Maison de la Poésie. In 2000, she was awarded the title of Commandeur des arts et des lettres.
2/The Legacy of Romanticism and Raine's relationship to her contemporaries
Described by the late René Gallet as neo-Romantic, Raine's work presents a vision firmly rooted in nature. Her childhood years with her aunt in Northumberland and her botanical studies at Girton College shaped her awareness of the divine cosmic presence within the microcosm of plants and flowers. This holistic, non-materialistic poetic awareness, which extends beyond the ordinary eye, permeates her entire works. The Great Book of Nature is also presented through the mystical eyes of William Blake and the English Romantic poets, of whom she had a very thorough knowledge. William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley are all major influences. Raine is also the author of numerous essays on these poets, including Defending Ancient Springs (1956). Her major work, Blake and Tradition, was awarded the prestigious Andrew Mellon Lectures in the United States in 1962. Kathleen Raine has also written extensively on the work of William Butler Yeats. Finally, it is worth noting her great admiration for some of her contemporaries: T.S. Eliot, Edwin Muir, Vernon Watkins, David Gascoyne and Herbert Read.
How can these different voices be linked together? In what way do they, like that of the poetess, stand in contradiction with their century?
3/ Philosophical foundations and influence
Raine's poetry also invites questions about the philosophical background, which she herself calls the "Tradition of the Imagination". An essentially Platonic and neo-Platonic tradition (Plotinus and Philo) that does not reject the natural world as opposed to the world of Ideas, but sees unity unfolding seamlessly in the multiple. This poetry of nature giving access to the marvellous essence of life is to be compared with a unified vision of the world, a highly contemporary form of spirituality, which is not without analogy with Buddhist philosophy and the Indian tradition, but also, more familiarly, with symbolism, the collective unconscious of Jung, the thought of Bachelard or that of Gilbert Durand.
4/ Raine’s rewriting of ancient myths
Another possible approach is that of the ancient Greco-Roman tradition, which makes it possible to explain entire sections of the poetic or autobiographical work. Kathleen Raine's poetry is nourished by several ancient myths known to all, those of Psyche and Isis, but especially that of Demeter and Persephone. The relationship to the mother-goddess, Demeter, is lived out in Kathleen Raine's personal history and mystical journey: her mother, Jessie, from the matriarchal Great Scotland, beyond Hadrian's Wall, embodies the land of poetry. Jessie Raine loved to recite Paradise Lost as she walked the moor and recorded her daughter's first poems before she could write. She also saw 'the moor alive'. The contrast between her family's Scotland or Yorkshire and the bleak London suburb of Ilford imbued the poet with a sense of decay and exile from the primordial paradise evoked by some of William Blake's poems (The Book of Thel, in particular).
5/ Some possible themes for reflection
Finally, here are some possible themes:
- Nature and spirituality in Kathleen Raine's poetry/autobiography;
- Exile and loss in Kathleen Raine's poetry/autobiography;
- Love and poetic creation in the poetry of Kathleen Raine;
- Kathleen Raine: a poetry of incantation/a performative art;
- Kathleen Raine, between passion and wisdom;
- Kathleen Raine: philosophical poetry or poetic philosophy?
- The figures of Isis and Persephone in the poetry/autobiography of Kathleen Raine
- Kathleen Raine, neo-romantic or symbolist?
- Kathleen Raine and the Golden Thread of Tradition
- Kathleen Raine and William Butler Yeats
- Kathleen Raine and the “Kinship of Eden”
- Kathleen Raine and India
- Translating Kathleen Raine
- Introducing students to some of Kathleen Raine’s poems
- Just as the New Age poets were inspired by William Blake, might today's poets find in Kathleen Raine a resurgence of the Great Imagination?