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

KATHLEEN RAINE: THE TENTH DECADE
Edited by Grevel Lindop
THE COLLECTED POEMS
Neil Curry
KATHLEEN RAINE, Collected Poems (Golgonooza Press) £25

Kathleen Raine is a poet and a scholar, one of the most distinguished Blake scholars of our time, and yet it seems to me that she was self-evidently wrong when she wrote in the first issue of the journal Temenos that 'William Blake is the only English poet whose central theme is the confrontation of science and imagination.'1 I say 'self-evidently' as there is another poet, one whom she appears at that moment to have overlooked, and that is herself. Faced with the range and depth of her learning, we have to remind ourselves that when she first went up to Girton it was not English Literature that she read. As she explained in The Land Unknown, the second volume of her autobiography, she 'felt no need to be "taught" literature. One had only to read the books after all.'2 No, her first degree was in Natural Sciences, and this explains, to some extent, the Hopkins-like precision of her observation. She writes as someone who has been trained to see what is there, not what she expects to be there. In an early poem Air she writes:

 But from a high fell on a summer day
Sometimes below you may see the air like water,
The dazzle of the light upon its waves
That flow unbroken to the end of the world.

I have been living in Cumbria for thirty years and must have seen this effect from the fell ...


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