English poet who strove to keep divine vision in times of trouble Kathleen Raine

Kathleen Raine, who has died aged 95, was a poet who believed in the sacred nature of all life, all true art and wisdom, and …

Kathleen Raine, who has died aged 95, was a poet who believed in the sacred nature of all life, all true art and wisdom, and her own calling. She knew as a child that poetry was her vocation.

William Blake was her master, and she shared his belief that "one power alone makes a poet - imagination, the divine vision".

To this vision she committed not only her poetry and erudition, but her whole life. She stood as a witness to spiritual values in a society that rejected them.

By the end, she inspired many kindred thinkers, including the Prince of Wales, whom she met through her friend Laurens van der Post. In his turn, Prince Charles gave her vital support through his patronage of the Temenos Academy of Integral Studies, which she founded in London in 1990 as a new "school of wisdom".


Although Raine had a Christian upbringing and became a Roman Catholic in the 1940s - a decision she later said was a mistake - her spirit was more at home in the Eastern traditions and the world view of Plato, Plotinus and the 18th-century English Platonist Thomas Taylor, on all of whom she produced scholarly studies. She drew Jungian psychology into her poetic vision of the divinity manifest in nature and the cosmos, and the "perennial wisdom" and spiritual symbols common to all religions, peoples and times.

These enthusiasms did not make her popular in her own culture, whose scorn she robustly reciprocated. She minded that Roy Fuller was preferred to herself as Edmund Blunden's successor for the Oxford poetry chair in 1968. In 1991, she declined the Royal Society of Literature's companionship of literature when she realised it had already been given to Anthony Burgess and Iris Murdoch, whom she dismissed as journalists.

But she received the Queen's gold medal for poetry in 1992, by which time she had won warm recognition in France, the United States and India.

As a young poet, she longed to be published by T.S. Eliot at Faber, but in vain. Decades later, the daughter of her beloved Yeats told her that "Tom" had first told "WBY" to read Kathleen Raine's poems. When she no longer bothered about such things, "I received Eliot's posthumous acceptance, with Yeats's also". It was the Sri Lankan, Tambimutto, who published her first book of poems, Stone And Flower, in 1943.

Kathleen's life had its pleasures, but much pain. She was beautiful and intelligent, and knew the passions of the heart and body as well as the longings of the soul. At Cambridge, a group of young men hung around simply to catch sight of her. There were love affairs, marriages, partings.

After her greatest love - for the naturalist Gavin Maxwell, author of Ring Of Bright Water - proved disastrous, she renounced personal emotions, and judged her own part in these dramas with ruthless severity. Threads of sorrow, regret and loneliness run through her four volumes of autobiography, as well as through her poetry. Among the unpublished poems she chose for her last collection (in 2000) were the lines: "Being what I am/What could I do but wrong?"

She was an adored only child; a photograph of her at eight shows a ravishing girl with grave eyes and long, light brown hair.

Her Scottish mother, Jessie, sang her the border ballads and wrote down her poems before she could hold a pencil herself. Her father, George, a miner's son, went to Durham University, and became an English teacher and Methodist lay preacher.

Though she was born in London, during the first World War she lived in Bavington, a Northumbrian hamlet, where she was "Kathie", a country child. For the rest of her life everywhere she went, she sought what she had known and lost there. The family was close and happy, proudly nurturing Kathie's exceptional gifts - until a former pupil of her father's fell in love with her, aged 14. When her father found out, he forbade the relationship. Not long afterwards, when the family were in France visiting a friend of her father's, a man of learning and culture, he, too, fell in love with her. Again, her father intervened.

It took Kathleen much of her life to forgive her parents for these traumas. When she did, it was even harder for her to bear the memory of her own cruelty towards them.

With a scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge, from Ilford county high school, she read natural sciences and psychology. Later she admitted her shame to have fallen for the nihilism, atheism and cleverness of Cambridge. But her father's "blasting of first love", she wrote, had "cut something from my soul".

After Cambridge, Kathleen married: because, as she would admit, she had no idea what else to do. The marriage - to Hugh Sykes Davies - failed; she eloped with Charles Madge, who conceived the social research organisation, Mass Observation, and with whom she had a son, James, and daughter, Anna. But she left this marriage, too, in love with a man who did not care for her.

The love of her life was the homosexual Gavin Maxwell. They were both at one in their love for his hut at Sandaig on the west Highland coast, and for Mijbil, the otter he had brought from the Euphrates. But the relationship was doomed.

Once, at his request, they shared a bed, without sexual contact. "Every night of my life, since then, I have spent alone," she wrote in The Lion's Mouth (1977), her third volume of autobiography. In it, she tells their story with surgical honesty, not avoiding what she came to see as her most terrible act, the words she spoke in despair by the rowan tree on Sandaig that had symbolised for her the eternal quality of their bond: "Let Gavin suffer in this place, as I am suffering now."

Maxwell's beloved Mij was killed, for which Raine blamed her negligence; his house on Sandaig burned down. He endured other losses and failures, and died prematurely of cancer in 1969. The agony that Raine underwent thereafter, expressed in her poetry and prose, seems never wholly to have expiated her guilt for a curse that so rebounded on herself.

Yet she kept faith with her vocation, producing more than a dozen books of poetry in six decades. She grew closer to her children, whose lives she thought she had ruined, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

All but one grandchild survive her.

In 1980, with a group of like-minded artists and writers, she launched Temenos - "a review devoted to the arts of the imagination" - with its first issue offering contributions from fellow poets David Gascoyne, Peter Redgrove and Vernon Watkins, and the visionary artist Cecil Collins, as well as herself.

The editors of Temenos (the word means the sacred area around a temple) declared that "the intimate link between the arts and the sacred" had fired imaginative creation in almost all human societies, except our own. Temenos aimed to challenge this.

In the 1990s a tide turned. At the Temenos Academy, Raine presided over discussions and lectures by scientists, ecologists and economists, as well as scholars, writers and artists from both East and West.

When asked how she wished people to remember her, Kathleen Raine said she would rather they didn't. Or that Blake's words be said of her: "That in time of trouble, I kept the divine vision".

Kathleen Jessie Raine: born June 14th, 1908; died July 6th, 2003