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Kathleen Raine: "Water."

I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on the poem below?


The water-Venus in dissolving beauty
Pours into our night-cities her seas' multitude,
Steeps with her dew the gardens of the earth,
And in our veins, still tidal to her moon
The life-blood surges out to her in waves
That break in tears or fleeting vain delight.

But in mid-ocean of desire
The King of Fishes stands
Upon the teeming seas, and to him rise
Like salmon to the poacher's light
Miraculous drafts of Venus' spawn
As from her element we are drawn
From living waters into birth."

I am assuming, due to the poet's religious beliefs, that the King of Fishes refers to Christ, and the poem suggests a sort of transubstantiation, or a birth brought upon human beings by a conjunction of nature and the spirit. I am somewhat confused, though, by the mention of "our veins" in the first stanza, suggesting "we" are already born and living. Does the first stanza refer to people when we are still in the womb, and the second to actual, physical birth - or does the first stanza maybe refer to physical life, the second to a spiritual awakening or "re-birth"?

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 11:54 am
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or perhaps the "As" in the penultimate line means "Because," or "Since," rather than "As," as in happening in the moment?
Wed, 23 May 2018 05:21 pm
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Alan Pascoe

The great American painter, Andrew Wyeth said that when he paints, he forgets that he is a painter. KR should forget she's writing a poem.

The poem is too obviously poetic. Dew, moon waves, desire... Can one still use the word beauty?

She needs to take more risks. Write beyond one's own imagination. In art, unlike life, there are no excuses.

'Like salmon to the poacher's light' is good.

What one needs to do as a writer is to catch the earth turning.

Read Charles Frazier's novel, Cold Mountain. He places characters and a narrative in the year 1864 without using a twentieth century consciousness. That's real talent. It's also difficult to do.

He writes of how we live and how we die. A poetic gaze is a journey which does not end, when it works, it is all our journeys.

In KR's poem, one is too aware of the placing of one word against another. Of course everything one writes is merely a preparation for something else.

One doesn't need to name the unnameable.

Alan Pascoe

Thu, 24 May 2018 03:56 pm
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Hi Alan, there is no corresponding profile to your username so please forgive me for being slightly dubious in replying! I am not sure what you mean by "too obviously poetic," nor "A poetic gaze is a journey which does not end, when it works, it is all our journeys." I'm afraid this just seems like an esoteric statement without much meaning. I appreciate the point you make re Andrew Wyeth, but poetry and painting are different and I would argue that, as the narrative voice is so important in Kathleen Raine's work, her status as a poet is central to the images depicted. Kathleen Raine did not always write from a personal or even human perspective, but I think there is something in this poem that points directly to her personal experience. She is not trying to paint a picture that is accessible to all, she is constructing a religious or spiritual image in which her own background and identity are key. "What one needs to do as a writer is to catch the earth turning," "In art, unlike life, there are no excuses." I'm sure these statements mean something to you, but they don't add anything substantial to my purpose here, which is trying to analyze this poem. You question the words the poet employs, and says the reader is too conscious of her placing one word against another. That's a fair point as it is your personal response, but we should bear in mind that Kathleen Raine was widely regarded as perhaps the greatest English poet of the 20th Century, and while this does not make her immune from criticism it strongly suggests she knew what she was doing in writing in this style - it is a deliberate, strategic choice to write this way and presumably also connected to the meaning(s) of the poem. The language is rich in metaphor and I'd urge readers to approach it in that context. Where I am struggling is in trying to unravel the grammar of the last few lines, and to decide whether the poem refers to physical or spiritual rebirth. I strongly suspect the latter, given the poet's personal situation - again, her own identity is very much a key aspect to her writing.
But, and I mean this very sincerely, thank you for your contribution. No-one else has yet commented since I posted the topic, and all responses mean a lot. I'm grateful for your thoughts.
Fri, 25 May 2018 12:20 am
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Sorry, but by whom was Kathleen Raine "widely regarded"? It sounds like very diluted Blake mixed with bad 18th C poeticisms. "Miraculous drafts of Venus' spawn" sound more William MacGonnegal than anything else. I'm all for flamboyance in poetry - but this is calling a spade 'an Arcadian digging implement' - all fancy Classicism and no substance.
Fri, 25 May 2018 10:44 am
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I have done, Colin. Personally I find more poetry in a Jackson Pollock. But each to their own.
Fri, 25 May 2018 02:44 pm
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Alan Pascoe

KR's work was seriously weakened by too much metaphor and religion. It's difficult to separate the doggerel from the twaddle. Perhaps one shouldn't try.

Have you read Eavan Boland's 'Outside History' Simon? That's what I mean about catching the earth turning.

KR's style of writing and belief kept her alive, but it limited her work. A poetic argument with oneself is never enough.

Metaphor got hold of her and she couldn't let it go. As a writer you have to be able to take yourself out of your own work. Mailer did this in 'The Executioner's Song.'

Write in a different voice. One's own perception of the world is never enough.

Good wishes,


Fri, 25 May 2018 03:50 pm
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I absolutely love this poem. The imagery is breath-taking. Creation captured! Thanks, Simon, for introducing it to me.

But I doubt that formal 'religion' has any influence on these 'thoughts' at all. For me, it's far more primal than organized piety from any source. And 'creation from the sea' is still a hard-core idea, realistically and idealistically.

I'm not sure if this comment will make any sense to anyone else; but it really doesn't matter, does it? Classicism fights on. And, IMO, 'Female-ism' really does exist. And it cannot ever be wholly understood by men: they are not the 'birth channel'.

Fri, 25 May 2018 04:47 pm
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I take your point Steven, and I was very wary of stating how well regarded KR was, as this does not automatically qualify someone as a great poet or mean their every work is worth the praise; I am skeptical of the literary pantheon and of the cliques and nepotism of the arts, but I do think it is worth taking into account that she was the recipient of the following awards:
1952 Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize
1953 Arts Council Award
1961 Oscar Blumenthal Prize
1970 Cholmondeley Award
1972 Smith Literary Award
1992 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry
2000 Order of the British Empire, Commander
2000 L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Commandeur
Even if one is generally unphased by official pomp, this is a pretty impressive list. I myself reject almost all of KR's spiritual and political beliefs, and I am not won over by the vision of the world she puts across in her poems, but I like the way she does so, and I must admit that when I stumble with one of her poems I always assume it is me as a reader who is at fault. Perhaps I'm wrong to do so.
Fri, 25 May 2018 07:36 pm
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I haven't read Outside History, Alan, but I do like Eavan Boland so I will look it up on your recommendation. I know what you mean regarding metaphor, and KR's work is drenched in it. I don't expect others to agree with my general admiration of KR's work or to like this poem, all I am trying to arrive at is an understanding of the poem's "plot", and to unpick some of the grammar and sentence structure that confuses me. The first stanza seems to suggest that "we" (presumably humans) are already alive, while it is in the second that coming "into life" is mentioned, which is the hub of my confusion.
Fri, 25 May 2018 07:39 pm
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Thank you Cynthia, yes your comments have helped to illuminate the poem for me further. I'm glad you like it, and I appreciate your points about "a more primal source" than formal religion, and about the theme of creation from the sea.
Fri, 25 May 2018 07:42 pm
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Thanks to everyone who has posted on this. All comments have helped nudge me into a better understanding of the poem and have opened up some interesting elements of discussion. I will keep ploughing away with this poem and see how I feel about it after some time has passed.
Fri, 25 May 2018 07:43 pm
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Alan Pascoe

Literary awards are suspect. Look at Beckett. He was the most over-rated playwright of the twentieth century. He had nothing to say which Cervantes hadn't said four hundred years earlier. Yet, SB won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Work which endures Cynthia is without gender. It is outside time.

Lines from Eliot's Four Quartets / Little Gidding.....

'And what the dead had no speech for, when living
They can tell you, being dead'

Those lines do not age, as we age, as KR's work ages.
They outlive us.

In a work of any worth there is the unnameable. Perhaps one should stop looking for a reason why Simon. There may not be a single reason, or answer.

In Wyeth's gaze there isn't one particular thing. There's a search. Is it the same search which brought those who came before us out of the caves?

If you haven't done so Simon, study Eliot or Emily Dickinson.

Good wishes,

Fri, 25 May 2018 11:56 pm
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I am just to be endured, am I? Talk about which way a 'line' can go! I'm kind of hoping it's just missing a comma, but I'm not sure.
Sat, 26 May 2018 03:35 pm
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