Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Kathleen Raine

Kathleen Raine was a British poet and literary critic whose life spanned the expanse of the twentieth century. Her poetry is marked by beautiful form and a Christian spirituality borne out of deep personal experience. Her poem below is deceiving for its simplicity; not only does it take multiple reads to intake the sense of it (as, of course, all good poems do), I actually mistook the last line as "reparation measures" rather than "separation measures" -- a decidedly different meaning in the difference of a single letter! The heartfelt sorrow of this poem, not untouched by the joy of desire, is especially powerful.

My own poem afterward is more formal for my own habit than usual, but makes the attempt to name that time of intangible recollection, so profoundly spiritual by nature, before falling asleep. There actually does seem a connection here, as there so rarely is, between the two poems paired together.

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Written in Exile

By Kathleen Raine

There is a word at heart for the next of death,
The farthest from joy; if I could fathom it
I would from this most desolate and distant place, bless

The maker of distances, since what divides
Me from His presence is the extent of Heaven.
Were He less high, I could not be so far.

And my unrest fathoms the deep of peace,
And by my depth downcast, Lord, you are risen,
Your love's great realm, my separation measures.

- - - - - - -

Coming to the Judgment of Sleep

As I lie still next to the slow-form body of my wife,
her heavy breathing, heat, knowledge intimating to me
(like the soft wink of a gentle sun) a history and
a life, unfiltered I receive the heartless march of the
day’s thoughts and spinning hang-ups.

Our speeds untranslatable
we speak in foreign tongues like respiratory machines,
her breath bleeding the count, my mind charging the mount. Is there
a harmony in this? Is her peace judgment on the long
marathon of my mind’s rattling comedown?

The pictures
frame haloed like ghastly saints come to moralize the past.
A dark-skinned god reminds me of the sins for which I have
no capacity to atone, and I thank him knowing
he knows my resentment.

The rest of my fits of sex and
violence come forth with predictable urgency, and he
holds court in the valley of my self-loathing’s judgment: a
single verdict singing forth in the thick darkness of my
beloved’s breathing: enter that, and grace covers you whole.

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