Where East and West meet: Kathleen Raine

Brought up on the bible, and the daughter of a methodist lay preacher, the poet and writer Kathleen Raine deeply immersed herself in the works of amongst others William Blake and his Christian visions. She writes the ‘the soul, like animals has an instinct for where water is to be found’, and she searched throughout her life for the universal truth in Christianity, especially in her conversion to Catholicism, and then disillusioned by the Church later in life travelling to the East.

In her late work on India Seen Afar (1990), she writes interestingly about what she calls the ‘India of the imagination’, which Raine sees as a universal state of ‘being’ where materialism can be increasingly let go of to allow space for the sacred – ‘In the West we have lost our Orient, we are dis-oriented.’ India as an actual place has become more westernized and consumerist, but there still exists some potential for a sense of mystery and the sacred. The inner India is not to do with geography, but something rather more mystical.

‘All of us, whether we like it or not, are in a situation in which we have learned from many traditions, and are formed by the whole inheritance of the world not just some one part of it. …through [Blake] I was able at least to see my Christianity as one among other religions and to read my Christian texts in the light of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, of the Lord Buddha, the Holy Koran of whatever words heaven has spoken to earth in any tradition.’

Struggling to conform at times with the Catholic church –

‘My instinct has always warned me to avoid organisations of whatever kind; my father’s Protestantism has remained strong in me through it all, warning me that every soul’s way is unique, there are no short cuts, and that nothing must come between the soul and its own divine source, on which each depends like a leaf on the Tree of Life.’

Raine visited India, the country, on a number of occasions beginning in her 70s, finding that it still retained, albeit greatly reduced, the sense of the sacred in people, in nature, in the creation – a sense of the sacred that surrounds us in every moment now almost completely lost in the west. Her experience is then to question not where we will find the Ultimate, the Absolute, but rather when and why we lost it.

‘The key is not knowledge but love … it is the loveless heart that is in exile, and will ever be so. … Without love there is no redemption. Perhaps we can only find ‘the God within’ when we love? Without relationship what can we know of love and therefore of God.’

Neither west nor east – for Raine: God is the answer – ‘for in God there is no longer question or answer’, the knowledge of God can never be about intellectual concepts and words rather about self-revelation. For her the ‘immemorial wisdom’ is love and the recognition of that – not as a superficial statement, but as an experience that is a homecoming –

‘there are no short cuts to our destined times and places’ but “home” by whatever means and ways we reach it, it is everywhere and nowhere’.