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This article is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

Love, Cambridge, Poetry Kathleen Raine

We all take up the human story where we are, already entangled by centuries of human lives, trying and failing. I wish I had known from the outset the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita that virtue lies in following our innate gift, whatever that may be; that from assuming the task of another, however successfully, no good can come. In the religion of my childhood - my father's puritanical Methodism - virtue lay rather in resisting heart's desire than in following it. Will-power was essentially the gift of resisting our own wishes, repression was a virtue in that far-off world, practised it must be said with much courage by the followers of that path. Above all sexual impulses were to be resisted, 'sublimated', as it was said, and perhaps a civilisation was built on the foundation of the strength of will-power so generated. Throughout two thousand years of Christendom the erotic has been deeply suspect, and therefore women's great gifts of love and beauty.

Be that as it may, at the age of fourteen I found myself deeply in love with a youth of nineteen. He asked me to marry him 'in five years' time' - and time to our eternal love seemed non-existent. My promise was made, blindly indeed, but with that total, Juliet-like commitment of first love. My father forcibly separated us, and perhaps he was right, knowing the world better than we did, and knowing better, also, the power of the sex instinct. But ...


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