It matters that this is a very specific landscape of the Scottish
Highlands. The poem is about the Highland Clearances and the narrator's
awareness of a tragic history that she is late in knowing/remembering.
The presences are those driven off the land in the late 18th and 19th C,
the hills the Highlands that were depleted, the roofless house a cottage
destroyed (probably burned) when the land was cleared, the "song and
story" the oral culture of the Gaels. It is one of the great and
terrible experiences of Scottish history never told in our schools.
Eliot wrote one poem about Glencoe with similar images. That is a story
every Scot knows but we also do not learn--the betrayal and slaughter of
the MacDonald's by the British army under the Campbell Earl of Argyle.
Eliot also represents crows (always present at battles and Scottish
tragedies) and the sense of great loss and crumbling substance.
Though Raine was born in London and grew up in Northumberland, she
describes Wester Ross in her poems.
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Kate -- I think Kathleen Raine got into religious verse in her later
(or am I thinking of another woman poet?). Do you know if she is
Craig Raine, an arch-defender of TSE? -- Jim Loucks
James Loucks, Ph.D.
Ohio State University-Newark
1179 University Dr.
Newark, OH 43055-1797
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She was into naturalism. Much of her poetry is about the sea or the
with mythical overtones. I've pasted a poem of hers below. I don't know
she was related to Craig Raine. For her time, she was extremelyl
free-spirited. She married, I believe, three times and had several
affairs and lived her
life much as she wanted. As I mentioned previously, she was terribly
with the naturalist, Gavin Maxwell. Unfortunately for her, he was a
homosexual and although he admired her poetry and valued their
friendship, they had a
falling out when her efforts to seduce him failed. She became quite
over this and when he died of cancer in his 60's, she felt, I believe,
of guilt over their estrangement, as it was mainly due to her inability
accept the fact that he was gay and would never be in love with her or
love to her. The title of Maxwell's most famous book, Ring of Bright
taken from one of her poems.
I came too late to the hills: they were swept bare
Winters before I was born of song and story,
Of spell or speech with power of oracle or invocation,
The great ash long dead by a roofless house, its branches rotten,
The voice of the crows an inarticulate cry,
And from the wells and springs the holy water ebbed away.
A child I ran in the wind on a withered moor
Crying out after those great presences who were not there,
Long lost in the forgetfulness of the forgotten.
Only the archaic forms themselves could tell!
In sacred speech of hoodie on gray stone, or hawk in air,
Of Eden where the lonely rowan bends over the dark pool.
Yet I have glimpsed the bright mountain behind the mountain,
Knowledge under the leaves, tasted the bitter berries red,
Drunk water cold and clear from an inexhaustible hidden fountain.